Testosterone in my HRT would transform my life… but do I have to pretend I'm transgender to get my GP to prescribe it?

Last summer, I became a participant in a covert drugs deal. I have never considered doing anything illegal – but I was desperate.

This is how it happened. I was on a weekend away with friends, some of whom were women in their 40s and 50s. I discovered that one friend, who lives an expat life in a Middle Eastern country with fantastic private healthcare, had recently been given testosterone gel as part of her HRT medication.

She had noticed a sharp and very welcome improvement. She reported feeling more alert, less forgetful, more able to get up off the sofa and be active – and less likely to anxiously sweat the small stuff.

I was fascinated. I had been on HRT (oestrogen and progesterone) for about six months, but I still felt terrible. Pre-menopause, I was full of energy. I trained twice a week at a martial arts club and went to regular boot camps and boxing classes. Now, even with HRT, I was often in pain, exhausted and unable to focus. I’d find myself procrastinating for hours.

As we were packing at the end of the weekend, my friend took pity on me. ‘Here,’ she whispered. ‘I’ve got a spare.’ She slipped a tiny silver package into my palm. ‘Testosterone gel, 50mg, should last you a good few weeks.’

Half the population will experience it, yet as millions of women across the UK know all too well, the menopause is often regarded even by doctors as something they must endure (Stock image)

Half the population will experience it, yet as millions of women across the UK know all too well, the menopause is often regarded even by doctors as something they must endure (Stock image)

‘How do I take it?’

‘You squeeze out a pea-sized lump every day and just rub it on to your thigh.’

At home, it took me a while to be bold enough to snip open the illicit packet. I wanted to do some research first and be sure that trying a small amount wouldn’t land me in hospital or with an unexpected beard.

When I summoned the courage to apply it, my pea-sized amounts were more petits pois than the large garden variety. Even so, within a week, I noticed a formidable transformation. I felt more alert, less stressed, more flexible, less prone to dithering. I slept more deeply.

Finally, I felt like myself again and I began to wonder why on earth the NHS doesn’t offer testosterone to all women taking HRT.

Testosterone is mostly associated with being male but before about 50, women naturally produce this third hormone along with oestrogen and progesterone. All those symptoms of the menopause that celebrities now ‘raise awareness’ of – headaches, hot flushes, insomnia, weight gain, joint pain, backache, irritableness, depression, forgetfulness, confusion, anxiety – can be the result of a lack of testosterone just as much as a lack of oestrogen.

Sometimes the symptoms of menopause are so severe that women who may have only just re-entered the workforce after bringing up children end up reducing their hours or leaving their jobs because they feel bewildered and unable to cope. Considering that women make up nearly half the UK workforce, you can see that this has major economic implications. Then think of all the unpaid caring we do – looking after our elderly parents and supporting children. You’d have thought it would make sense to dose us up.

There is a blood test that can help to identify menopause by measuring levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and the main type of oestrogen (there are three forms) called estradiol. (Stock image)

There is a blood test that can help to identify menopause by measuring levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and the main type of oestrogen (there are three forms) called estradiol. (Stock image)

After I found the missing part of my hormonal jigsaw, and as the little silver sachet slowly began to be used up, I booked an appointment with my GP. A thorough online search revealed that I could not buy this stuff anywhere. It really would have to be prescribed, but at that point I had no doubt I could persuade my GP. Testosterone had, after all, transformed my life.

Instead of a prescription, however, I received a lecture on how short the NHS is of funds and how money must be allocated to those who need it most. I was told I would have to be seen by a menopause specialist if I wanted testosterone – and there was at least a two-year waiting list.

In an attempt to lighten the mood, towards the end of my appointment the GP said: ‘We don’t want you suddenly turning into a man, do we?’ Then she seemed to check herself and said quite seriously: ‘Of course, if anyone does want to become a man that’s absolutely OK and we can definitely have a conversation about hormones for that.’

I left without questioning her further, but can that really be true? I cannot get the hormone I need as a middle-aged woman, but if I were to pretend to be transitioning, the NHS would hand it over?

Recent reports suggest that there is a shortage of testosterone due to increased demand. Middle-aged men who think their libido needs a boost, women who are transitioning and middle-aged women are now all clamouring for it.

The irony, though, is that whereas for older women who lack the hormone, testosterone can be very helpful; for younger women who already have the correct levels, extra testosterone can lead to significant health problems.

The NHS website explains that previously licensed testosterone preparations for female use in the UK were discontinued for commercial, not medical reasons. So for all the endless ‘menopause awareness’ campaigns and documentaries hosted by Davina McCall, it’s clear that the trouble isn’t just a temporary shortage of supply – but that the NHS simply doesn’t consider middle-aged women to be worth the price of testosterone.

  • This article originally appeared in The Spectator.
source: dailymail.co.uk