Benefits of Health & Her

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How to talk to your doctor about menopause

Not sure where to start when it comes to discussing menopause with your doctor? Doctor 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 negatively impact your 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 doctor 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 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 it is more serious than menopause”

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

“I want someone who will listen not just tick the boxes”

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

“I’d rather not try HT, 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 HT 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 – it’s 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 healthcare professional.

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 doctor will probably just tell me to change my diet”

Menopause affects women in 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 doctor 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 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. You may also find it helpful to bring in a friend or relative along with you for moral support.

See your conversations as a journey together

“I want 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 HT 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 wants to help but may feel limited by the amount of information to discuss in an often-short appointment (commonly 10 minutes).

You mustn’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 doctor can’t help?

“I don’t want to face 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 family practitioner or healthcare provider hasn’t been able to fully cover what is needed for you to make a decision. You must be aware that doctors 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 family healthcare provider 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 their 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 doctor 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 doctor 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 App 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.

About Dr Shilpa McQuillan MRCGP MRCOG DFSRH

Dr Shilpa McQuillan is a doctor 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.

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 doctor 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 doctor 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 doctor . 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 Doctor 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 doctor , ask the receptionist if it is possible to book a longer appointment. Doctors 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 doctor you are comfortable with

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

5. 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 HT, find out about counselling to help you deal with other demands in your life, get some advice about urinary incontinence).

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 doctor! The doctor will then be able to follow up with questions that get to the heart of your worries.