I had always been generally very healthy, no major problems and only the occasional cold. But two weeks after returning from a lovely, restful vacation in Florida I experienced a sudden and severe attack of hives. Large red formations about the size of a quarter appeared all over my body, even in my hair.
I immediately went to our local doctor. This was the first time I had ever experienced any kind of skin problem and I was naturally quite concerned. The doctor prescribed a cream to be applied topically and told me that I was probably allergic to something.
I spent the weekend soaking in baths of baking soda and applying my cream. Nothing helped. I also tried to discover what I had either eaten or was using that could explain the hives but came up with nothing. The hives got worse.
During the previous months I had been under a great deal of stress. A close family member had died of cancer and our daughter, who is physically handicapped, had undergone serious surgery. Also my menstrual period, which had always been regular to the minute, was two weeks late.
I was eventually forced to seek emergency medical treatment for the hives at our local hospital where I received the standard shot of Benadryl and adrenaline and was told that I was experiencing an allergic reaction, probably to shellfish. When I told them I did not eat fish, they just shrugged their shoulders.
The rest of the week I felt totally miserable and very nauseous, similar to the early stages of pregnancy when even the smell of food ie pizza or coffee, would have me running for the nearest bathroom. I began to lose weight, had a very fast heart rate and a very uncomfortable ,choking sensation in my throat.
I returned to the doctor. When I told him my symptoms and the fact that my period was late, he came up with the diagnosis: pregnant! He then ordered a pregnancy test. The results were negative, thank goodness!
The next step was to order every test in the book to see what could be the cause of my problem. These tests included a cardiogram, an ultrasound of the pelvic area, a thyroid scan and an x-ray of the adrenal glands. Also a multitude of blood tests.
The test results all came back normal. In fact, they were better than normal and my doctor could find no medical reason for the hives. He had run out of tests to take but he did agree that I looked awful. I was still losing weight and very nauseous.
As a last resort he prescribed a beta-blocker for the fast heart rate and a tranquilizer for the panic attacks. I did not particularly want to take them but felt that I had no choice.
We had just recently moved from the city to the country about one and a half hours north of Toronto. A short distance away was Ontario's beautiful Mennonite country with its abundance of organic vegetables, hormone-free meats and free-range eggs. I was therefore able to find a good naturopath.
My first consultation involved an exhaustive series of questions regarding symptoms and a complete medical history. The naturopath soon recognized that my problems were related to reduced adrenal function. She concluded that this was due to a hormonal imbalance caused by the onset of menopause.
During the menopausal stage the adrenal glands take over from the ovaries in producing the hormones needed by the body. If the adrenals are under stress this can result in an imbalance in the body which can then be manifested in a number of ways. In my case it was hives!
Adrenal gland function is evaluated by comparing two blood pressure readings, one taken lying down followed immediately by one taken standing erect. If the blood pressure is lower after standing, reduced adrenal function is suspected. My test showed a high degree of hypoadrenalism -- an under-functioning adrenal system -- another indication of poor adrenal function is skin discoloration which I had experienced for a couple of years.
My naturopath began my treatment by weaning me off the Valium and Inderal and instead using a herbal remedy containing passion flower, valerian and hops. She also gave me some glandular homeopathic drops to support my thyroid and adrenals. This type of approach, unlike the drugs, was non-addictive and allowed my body to relax while building up my adrenals.
In addition I started on a total vegetarian diet. Within two weeks of starting this regimen almost all of the symptoms disappeared and my appetite returned to normal. I began to put on some weight and the choking sensations in my throat vanished. My heart rate returned to normal and I was able to once again exercise without any discomfort.
Over the past three years I have continued to follow this approach and am happy to report that I have not had any relapses.
Menopause Without Medicine by L. Ojeda (sc) 288pp $18.95
Super Nutrition For Menopause by A.L. Gittleman (sc) 274pp $7.50
Menopause, The Self Help Book by S. Lark (sc) 239pp $25.50
Available at your local health food store or from alive books PO Box 80055 Burnaby BC V5H 3X1. Please add $3 for p&h and 7% GST when ordering from alive books.
By Margaret Macmillan