Survey results conducted for Wyeth Pharmaceuticals concluded that women don't talk to their doctors about menopause. Just over 1,000 postmenopausal women and 600 health care professionals answered questions about communicating about and being asked about menopause. Half of the postmenopausal women revealed that they have learned to live with certain symptoms of menopause, including vulvar and vaginal symptoms. A quarter experienced painful sexual intercourse some of the time. But when it came to discussing these issues, only 44 percent of the women had spoken to their health care professionals.
Survey results revealed that with regards to painful intercourse (dyspareunia), women were most likely to not speak to their doctors because of embarrassment, followed by hopelessness that there was anything a doctor could do. Nearly half of the women surveyed revealed that they believed it taboo to discuss certain menopausal symptoms.
These results make me stop and wonder why we haven't come further in extinguishing the anxiety around discussing menopause. Though some symptoms of this period of life are discussed more openly - hot flashes, night sweating, etc. - they tend to be talked about in a more joking setting, or used to stereotype women of a certain age. The result? Many people continue to believe that these are the only symptoms of menopause, when in fact there is a whole suite of changes happening in the body for women. Symptoms such as painful intercourse, vaginal and vulvar symptoms, are rarely discussed publicly - it would be interesting to poll young women and see how many of them have a comprehensive understanding of menopause.
How can women be more comfortable talking to their doctors about menopause?
First, I recommend reading materials that discuss menopause in detail - reading allows you to become familiar with menopause, to learn about possible symptoms, and to feel assured that you aren't "the only one." Dr. Christiane Northrup, for example, writes extensively about women through various phases of their lives. Her text can make you feel more comfortable about what you're going through.
Next, decide on what you'd like to say your doctor. Practice in your home! Thinking about the words you are comfortable using allows you to feel more prepared when you're sitting in those paper gowns.
Finally, remember that your health professional is trained to discuss women's bodies and health in a professional and factual manner. It is their job to be comfortable discussing symptoms. And if you find yourself feeling reluctant about your particular doctor, consider switching. Sometimes as our bodies change, the doctors we feel comfortable with can change as well. Don't be afraid to strive to be as comfortable as you can about having a dialogue about your body. You should be assured that you're learning everything you can about taking care of your body during menopause! Until there is less of a stigma and taboo, it's up to us to take care of our bodies, do our research and be vocal about our symptoms to our doctors.