Thinking about talking to your doctor about menopause?
A few tips on using your appointment well.
The fact remains that the number of doctors with deep experience in menopause remains limited. Recently on Instagram we spoke about how 58% of women cannot access menopause services locally.
And that means we continue to hear of multiple visits to the surgery, patronising and/or dismissive assessments of symptoms and their impact, the 'withholding' of prescriptions because we're 'too young', 'our symptoms are not severe enough', or simply incorrect beliefs around HRT and its risk factors...
Layer on top impossible waiting times for menopause clinic appointments and a postcode lottery on whether there is even one within reach, many of us are still experiencing years of uncertainty, worry and ill health.
It’s not easy to know when you’re ‘in menopause’. And it can be difficult for your GP to attribute the vast array of symptoms that we can experience within a standard 10 minute surgery appointment too. In fact, research shows that today, around 67% of us are likely to leave the doctors without a diagnosis. And a further 79% may have to visit our doctors multiple times before the ‘dots’ are joined together, and menopause is identified as the root cause of symptoms. <1>
But there is much we can do as individuals to make best use of our time with our doctor. Here are a few tips from the experts in our community on how to make best use of your appointment with your GP:
- Make sure you’ve a full perspective on the key symptoms associated with menopause.
Our hormones impact every single cell in our bodies, which is why the symptoms associated with menopause are so broad. Make sure you know what those symptoms are. And ensure you’ve undertaken a full body scan of yourself too. You may be most troubled by brain fog but realise that you have persistent bone ache too. Or that you’re suddenly feeling more bloated or sensitive to food. Being able to recognise all that troubles will ensure your doctor gets a 360 degree perspective on your health within your session.
- Track the symptoms for a period of time.
Symptoms during menopause are rarely consistent, which is why tracking your symptoms can be really helpful in getting a balanced picture of how hormone fluctuations are impacting your health. Once you know what to look out for based on tip 1, simply use a notebook to jot down any symptoms you experience over 3-4 weeks - and take the insights you gather into your appointment too.
- Find the right person to talk to.
Most doctors in the UK today will have had limited training on menopause as part of their general practitioner training. Additional education is increasingly available. So, when booking your appointment, ask your doctor's surgery whether they have a doctor specialising in menopause. It may be better to see a specialist than your regular family GP.
- Ask for enough time.
Every individual’s experience of menopause is unique. Doctors need time to listen hard to all you’re feeling and all you’ve noticed. Many surgeries are able to offer double appointments for complex concerns, if they know the topic is going to require more time. Request a double appointment if they're available to ensure you and your doctor have the time to explore your symptoms fully.
- Take someone with you.
Research undertaken by Gen-M in 2021 show 2 in 3 of us in the UK find the topic of menopause difficult to talk about <2>. If you are anxious about the conversation, prepare what you want to say and take a friend or family member with you to the appointment. Tell them that you may need them to provide additional information on your behalf if you struggle.
- Share what you’ve learned.
Doctors want you to be well. They are very aware of how limited their time is - and the impact this can have on their clients. If you’ve tracked your symptoms for a period of time or completed an online assessment or questionnaire, show them. They should appreciate the more complete perspective this provides.
- Take time to pause.
Although we may experience huge relief in having our symptoms identified - and perhaps a medical treatment plan offered, you may also feel a little overwhelmed by a diagnosis of menopause.
If you feel unsure by your doctor’s assessment or proposed treatment plan, remember, you don't have to decide to do anything within the appointment itself. It's ok to go away to think about your doctor’s assessment and request a follow up appointment to discuss options further.
Finally, if the appointment doesn't deliver an outcome you feel comfortable with, ask whether you can be referred within your surgery for a second opinion. Doctors will often stress that patients should know that requesting a consultation with another colleague isn't viewed as being rude or disrespectful. They know they can't be expert in everything. And they just want you to be well.
You may also ask to be referred outside your surgery practice. The NHS does operate a number of Menopause Clinics across the UK - and these are designed to provide medical treatment, lifestyle advice and also signpost to other services within the NHS that may be useful. To find your nearest menopause clinic, simply head to the resource database held by The British Menopause Society <3>.