As I approached menopause, my doctor never warned me I’d face challenges. When sex and then simply walking became painful, I feared pelvic floor prolapse. Luckily, after a visit to the doctor, I learned my problem was dryness, easily remedied. Had I been clued in ahead of time that dryness was a menopausal issue, I would have been spared the pain and worry. My experience taught me this: You are your own health advocate. I should have asked my doctor questions about menopause in advance, and I should have done more research myself.
So how can you be your own health advocate? Here are some suggestions:
- Be Informed: Read all you can about menopause. Look for books in your library and bookstore. Take advantage of the plentiful materials online. EmpowHer, WebMD, The Hormone Health Network website, Healthline, menopause blogs, and the website of The North American Menopause Society are some of the excellent resources available. The girlfriend network is a fine resource, too; talk to other women to learn about their experiences, treatments that worked for them, and doctors they respect.
- Prepare for Doctor Visits: Once you have informed yourself, you’ll be more aware of the most common symptoms women experience due to hormonal changes of menopause. If you have enough notice, begin keeping a diary of your symptoms one month before your appointment. Especially note those that affect your quality of life, such as hot flashes, sweating, sleep disturbance, fatigue, palpitations, short-term memory problems or changes in sexual function (decreased desire, slowed sexual responsiveness, vaginal dryness, pain). Also, write down your questions for the doctor. WebMD suggests: “While you're waiting to be seen, use the time to review the list and organize your thoughts.” Keep your list in your hand, not your purse. I once got so nervous that I forgot to pull out my list!
- Talk to the Nurse: You’ll see the nurse first. Be open about the reason for your visit and your specific concerns. Nurses often have good suggestions, and talking to the nurse warms you up for speaking with the doctor.
- Speak Up: No matter how odd or embarrassing your question, your doctor has probably heard it. If you’re shy, practice asking the question ahead of time to your partner, a close friend, or even the mirror. One woman I know printed out her question. She explained: “I’m too shy to say the words,” and handed the sheet to the doctor.
- Ask, Ask, and Ask Again: Try rephrasing your question if your doctor doesn’t seem to understand what you’re asking. If you’re having trouble understanding the doctor’s response, say, “Let me make sure I have that right,” and then repeat the response in your own words. Make certain that you understand the reasons and instructions for any tests or medications completely. It’s surprising to learn that about half of patients seeing their doctor for any reason leave the office feeling that their main concerns and complaints have not been addressed.
- Find the Right Doctor: I have a friend who tearfully told her doctor that she was having painful sex. She was greeted with a cold stare and an unsympathetic response. Time to find a new doctor.
- Second Opinion: WebMD suggests: “Getting a second opinion from a different doctor might give you a fresh perspective and more information on treatments.” Don’t hesitate to tell your doctor if you choose to get a second opinion. Most doctors are quite comfortable with this concept.
Be grateful for the training and expertise of doctors, but in the end, you’re the boss of your own body. “We become captives of the notion that we will appear confrontational, aggressive, bothersome, or complaining,” medical social worker Kathryn Gurland writes. “We convince ourselves that it’s better to just stay quiet than to cause a fuss.” Years ago, women were silent during menopause. But no longer! It’s a great time to be a woman, and it’s a great time to advocate for your own health in menopause.
Simpson et al. Doctor-patient communication: the Toronto consensus statement. BMJ. 1991, 303:1385-1387.
Talking to Your Doctor about Menopause. WebMD. Retrieved November 18, 2015. http://www.webmd.com/menopause/guide/menopause-talking-to-doctor
Sarrel PM et al. Ovarian Steroids and the Capacity to Function at Home and in the Workplace. New York Academy of Sciences. 1990; 592:156-161.
Kathryn Gurland. Stepping Up to the Plate. A Woman’s Health. com. Retrieved November 18, 2105. http://awomanshealth.com/stepping-up-to-the-plate/
Reviewed November 27, 2015
By Philip Sarrel, M.D. and Lorna Sarrel, M.S.