TV presenter Philippa Forrester reveals early menopause went undiagnosed for more than a decade

It was Philippa Forrester's friend, fellow TV presenter Anthea Turner who encouraged her to get her hormones tested for a menopause diagnosis
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TV presenter and author Philippa Forrester has revealed that early menopause symptoms she had in her mid-30s went undiagnosed until she was 49.

Forrester, who is now 55, began her career on CBBC and is best known for her appearances on Tomorrow’s World, The Heaven And Earth Show, Robot Wars, natural history documentaries and also has a new podcast, Conscious.

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Describing her early menopause symptoms, Forrester explained: "I had years of it. I had hot flushes, night sweats, brain fog, putting on weight, all of that stuff, which nowadays somebody would immediately go, ‘You’ve got the menopause, go and get your hormones tested’.

"Nobody mentioned hormones to me at that time. I thought maybe I had a bit of PMT or something. I didn’t have a clue what was happening. So my fingers are crossed that if the same thing is happening to somebody else, now they’ll know because we all talk about it way more."

Philippa Forrester's early menopause symptoms went undiagnosed for more than a decade (Photo: Tina Price/PA)Philippa Forrester's early menopause symptoms went undiagnosed for more than a decade (Photo: Tina Price/PA)
Philippa Forrester's early menopause symptoms went undiagnosed for more than a decade (Photo: Tina Price/PA)

Forrester talks about her journey with the menopause in her new book, Wild Woman, which celebrates women, past and present, working in nature around the world, from female conservationist heroes to botanists and those who do extraordinary work in the field, through grit and determination.

Her research takes her across continents and harsh landscapes as she records stories of discovery and danger which are interspersed with her own painful journey, including the breakdown of her marriage to wildlife photographer Charlie Hamilton James and a reluctant move back to the UK after six years in Wyoming.

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"There was no joy," she recalls. "The grief over leaving my wild home in America and all my friends – on top of the relentless pain of losing my husband, the man I loved and thought loved me – became too much."

She started to experience depression which had begun with the menopause, but additional factors including family deaths, her son Fred’s cancer (he was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2016 but is doing well now) and what she calls "my husband’s change of heart", all added additional layers.

What is the menopause?

The menopause is when you stop having periods due to lower hormone levels. It usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 years old, but can happen earlier and can also be medically induced through medications or surgery. Perimenopause is when you have symptoms of the menopause but your periods have not stopped. Perimenopause ends when you have not had a period for 12 months.

What are symptoms of the menopause?

Menopause and perimenopause can cause symptoms including: anxiety, mood swings, brain fog, hot flushes and irregular periods. Symptoms can begin years before periods stop and carry on afterwards. They can have a big impact on a person's life including personal relationships and work.

What has Philippa Forrester said about her menopause symptoms?

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Forrester explains that living with undiagnosed menopause had been a barrier to happiness. She said: "I felt awful a lot of the time. I was really struggling with it and not knowing what was wrong with me. Another symptom I had was terrible migraines. The doctor said to me, ‘You need to go running more’, but I did go running three times a week, so he didn’t have an answer after that.

"Then another doctor, who was a woman, said to me, ‘Maybe you’re just a miserable person’. And I took that on board for a while until another female doctor said, ‘I’m going to check your hormones’. She later told me, ‘I don’t know how you’ve been operating because you’ve got no hormones – you are meant to have some!’"

Forrester says she didn’t realise she had stopped ovulating, because in an earlier procedure she’d had her womb lasered and wasn’t having periods. She adds: “We need to have our bloods looked at regularly. It’s tricky if you are still ‘cycling’ because you get different readings at different times of the month.

"But these things need to be paid attention to because, even if you’re not sleeping well, it affects every other aspect of your life. Certainly my ability just to be present in my own life, my ability to concentrate and write well, are affected."

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It was her friend, fellow TV presenter Anthea Turner, who told her to seek further medical opinion and get her hormones tested. She explained: "A couple of phone calls with her and you are back on the straight and narrow. She’s been there, done that and she was brilliant with me. She’s so good at all the anti-ageing stuff and she’ll always be there to listen."

When she was finally diagnosed, it took some adjustment to get her HRT right, because she’s not good with artificial progesterone.

“But the difference was extraordinary, even with things like aching joints, because I was aching all the time. By the end, I’d been completely through the menopause and my hormones were becoming non existent.”

Forrester revealed that the joy has crept back in. She explained: "There’s a gradual creeping of it (joy), rather than a sudden moment of enlightenment. Any big paradigm shift of change of circumstance for humans takes our brains a little while to catch up to that being a new normal."

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Wild Woman: Empowering Stories From Women Who Work In Nature by Philippa Forrester is published by Bloomsbury Wildlife on February 29, priced £18.99.

Sarah McCann is a Trends Writer for NationalWorld who specialises in stories around TV, Film and Health. If you liked this article you can follow Sarah on X (Twitter) here. You can also share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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