Benefits of Health & Her

How to talk to your GP about menopause

Not sure where to start when it comes to discussing menopause with your doctor? GP Shilpa McQuillan is here for you, with practical advice to make the most of your appointments – even when it’s time to talk about symptoms you might find embarrassing!

Many recent surveys and studies have shown that menopause can cause a negative impact on quality of life. This isn’t surprising given the vast range and intensity of symptoms it can cause. However, what does surprise me is that some women are reluctant to seek help from their doctor.

As a GP myself, I find this disappointing, and have performed a survey locally to find out common worries women have, some of which I have relayed below. You may be able to relate to these thoughts or have the similar concerns. In this article, I’ll take a look at why women might feel this way, and how to reduce worries and concerns with some simple, practical actions.

“I’m embarrassed to discuss my intimate symptoms”

“I’m scared I will be judged for having such minor symptoms and wasting an appointment”

“My doctor’s a man, I’m worried he will lack empathy and won’t understand”

“I don’t want to face the menopause – I’m scared of being old before my time”

“The symptoms I have frighten me, what if its more serious than menopause”

“The treatment scares me- there’s lots of side effects I’ve heard”

“I wasn’t someone who will listen not just tick the boxes”

“I’m worried menopause will make me fat but the GP will probably just tell me to change my diet”

“I’d rather not try HRT, there’s a high risk of breast cancer”

“I just want someone who cares. In the past my doctor has tried to put me off HRT but my friends feel so much better with it”

“I’ve read my exhaustion can be due to menopause but I’m worried my doctor will say it’s all in my head”

“My doctor is male and I prefer not to talk about intimate problems – its embarrassing”

“I didn’t know my doctor can address the relationship problems I am having”

It seems that women’s concerns are as individual as their symptoms – but there are answers that I hope will reassure you and help you feel more confident about talking to your GP.

Getting the right help starts with speaking out

“I’m scared I will be judged for having such minor symptoms and wasting an appointment”

“I’m worried menopause will make me fat but the GP will probably just tell me to change my diet”

Menopause affects women in such different ways due to the wide range of symptoms that can occur. Therefore, the impact it has on quality of life can significantly vary from woman to woman. It’s important that you feel you are supported and are given the right options for you – and your GP can be a fantastic support in getting the help you need.

There’s no need to be embarrassed

“I’m embarrassed to discuss my intimate symptoms”

“My doctor’s a man, I’m worried he will lack empathy and won’t understand”

“My doctor is male and I prefer not to talk about intimate problems – it’s embarrassing”

Some people still see menopause as a ‘taboo’ subject and are afraid to talk about it. Try to remember that menopause is really common, and your doctor will have ‘seen it before’. Whether your doctor is male or female, we are trained to be professional and to provide the best level of care.

Be honest, tell your story, and most importantly explain how it is affecting you. This will help your doctor to tailor the information and choices to best suit you. Some women also be helpful to bring in a friend or relative you for moral support.

See your conversations as a journey together

“I wasn’t someone who will listen not just tick the boxes.”

“I just want someone who cares. In the past my doctor has tried to put me off HRT but my friends feel so much better with it.”

“I’ve read my exhaustion can be due to menopause but I’m worried my doctor will say it’s all in my head.”

Your doctor really wants to help, but may feel limited by the amount of information to discuss in an often-short GP appointment (commonly 10 minutes).

It is important that you don’t feel rushed, so think of your menopause as a journey and be prepared to arrange more than one appointment so that you feel all your questions and concerns are addressed.

This will give you and your doctor the time you need to explore all the treatment options suited to you. You can also help to make the most of the time available by preparing carefully – there are ideas on how to do that at the end of this article.

Worried that your GP can’t help?

“I don’t want to face the menopause – I’m scared of being old before my time.”

“The symptoms I have frighten me, what if it’s more serious than menopause?”

“I didn’t know my doctor can address the relationship problems I am having.”

You may feel that your situation is complex and that your GP hasn’t been able to fully cover what is needed for you to make a decision. It is key to know that GPs do have knowledge about women’s health and menopause, but that most are not specialists.

It is ok to be honest and express your feelings. If your GP knows they have not been able to fully help you they may be able to still support you through the journey but also seek expert advice from another colleague in the GP practice or refer you to another specialist.

Preparation and research: what you can do to help

Be prepared in advance. Making a list of questions or points you wish to discuss will ensure your GP understands your agenda from the start and will cover the things most important to you.

In addition, have some vital information ready to help your GP tailor treatment that is safe and suitable for you:

  • Keep a symptom diary and make notes including timelines for changes to your periods, mood changes and sleep patterns. Health & Her’s Symptom Tracker might be a helpful way to do this digitally.
  • Know your body well. It is important you are aware of any relevant medical problems you or your close family members may have had such as a history of breast or ovarian cancer, heart disease, clots in the legs or lungs (Venous-thromboembolism) Make note of any previous operations you have had on your womb, ovaries or cervix.
  • Do some research and make notes on any treatments you like the look of, or have already tried.

5 tips on How to Talk to Your Doctor about Intimate or Embarrassing Symptoms

Expert psychologist Dr. Deborah Lancastle knows that if you’re struggling with more intimate menopause symptoms like urinary changes, vaginal dryness, painful sex, or changes to your periods, speaking to your GP can seem like an insurmountable task. But if you don’t speak out about your symptoms, healthcare professionals can’t help – and that’s what we are here for after all! Here are Dr. Lancastle’s top five tips on how to speak to your GP about symptoms that may feel a bit embarrassing to acknowledge. 

1. Prepare in advance

You may feel more confident and in control, if you have found out about your problem before you see your GP. For example, you could read about your problem and the advantages and disadvantages of different treatments before you go to your appointment.

Perhaps read through some articles on this website such as the ‘how to talk to your GP about menopause symptoms’, explore some decision aids+ and discuss your thoughts about treatment options with your family and friends to get things clear in your head.

2. Think about how long you might need

If you need to discuss several issues with your GP, ask the receptionist if it is possible to book a longer appointment. GPs may have a time limit on appointments, but if you’ve booked extra time in advance you won’t feel rushed and will be able to take your time to explain everything that’s going on.

3. Book an appointment with a GP you are comfortable with

You may have more of a rapport with one or two GPs at your practice. If so, find out if it is possible to book an appointment with that GP. You may have to wait to see a named GP, but if your symptoms are not urgent and you would be more comfortable talking to a particular doctor you may prefer not to rush.

4. Work out your goals for the appointment

One strategy that has been found helpful by women (5) dealing with another medical challenge is to write down brief answers to these 2 questions before you see your doctor:

Q1: “What is the main thing I want to achieve in this appointment?”

It is best if this is about the issue that is worrying you most and/or is having the biggest impact on your quality of life (e.g., discuss HRT, find out about counselling to help you deal with other demands in your life, get some advice about urinary incontinence).

Here is what HRT is and how it can help with menopause symptoms.

Q2. “What are the questions I want to ask?”

Write down a few questions that will be particularly helpful to you. Make these relevant to the priority you have decided upon in Question 1. E.g., If your priority is to sort out urinary incontinence you might want to find out if there are any particular exercises you can do and if there is a health professional who can help you to check if you are doing these correctly.

5. What if you just can’t get the words out?

Sometimes people find that once they get to the doctors they are suddenly unable to talk about the reason for their appointment. If you find this happening to you and you have prepared brief answers to the 2 questions suggested in Tip 4, just slide this piece of paper over the desk to the GP! The GP will then be able to follow up with questions that get to the heart of your worries.

You can save time with an appointment at the Health & Her online Clinic if appointment waiting lists for your regular GP are too long. You will get advice and direction from a specialist menopause GP who will fully understand your intimate symptoms.

The clinic offers video consultations with menopause specialist GPs registered with the British Menopause Society. With their specialist knowledge in menopause health, our GPs are qualified to provide you with tailored advice and treatment options. If you haven’t found the answers you need from your GP or are tired of waiting for an appointment, getting support from an experienced specialist can help a great deal when it comes to feeling like yourself again.

About Dr Shilpa McQuillan MRCGP MRCOG DFSRH

Dr Shilpa McQuillan is a GP with a difference; she brings a wealth of specialist knowledge when it comes to women’s health. Previously a Hospital Registrar in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Shilpa now works in general practice, providing patients with resident expertise and knowledge on women’s health concerns.

Read Shilpa’s full biography here.

About Dr Deborah Lancastle

Dr Deborah Lancastle (PHD) is a Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) registered and British Psychological Society (BPS) Chartered Health Psychologist with special interest in the psychosocial aspects of women’s reproductive health. Her extensive knowledge and experience of the psychological principles explaining how women cope with reproductive health issues means she’s well-placed to advise across a range of women’s reproductive health concerns.

Read Deborah’s full biography here