How to Talk to Your Healthcare Provider About Your Menopause Symptoms

You are noticing that your periods are becoming irregular and you seem a little more forgetful than you used to be. And was that a hot flash you had the other day during the budget meeting? Could it be? Could you actually be starting menopause?

If you are having the first signs of menopause and are worried about what they might mean, it’s probably time to discuss it with your medical provider. You may even want to ask some questions that will help you decide whether this is the provider you want to see during the menopausal years and beyond. It’s good to explore early in the game whether your healthcare provider is comfortable addressing the symptoms and worries that sometimes arise during these years.

woman talking to doctor

Getty Images / Thomas Barwick

The Best Healthcare Provider for You

First, if you are wondering about how to choose a healthcare provider during menopause, here are some questions you can ask:

  • Do you treat a lot of people my age?
  • What should I think about as I get near menopause?
  • What do you recommend for people my age who have a lot of trouble with menopause symptoms?
  • What are your opinions about hormone therapy?
  • Are there alternative therapies that can help me if I don’t want prescription drugs?

A medical provider who is familiar and comfortable with menopausal issues will be able to answer your questions and reassure you that, like pregnancy, this is not a “medical condition,” but that it is something that you may need some support to manage. In particular, listen for:

  • Familiarity with menopausal issues
  • Current knowledge of the field, including the latest information on the risks of hormone therapy
  • Comfort as they talk about this area of health
  • Willingness to hear your concerns
  • Flexibility in making health decisions, including alternative therapies

Most people want a healthcare provider who is knowledgeable, and who can give guidance and support with an open mind. You may become embarrassed or worried about your menopause symptoms, and when that happens it helps to have a healthcare provider who can reassure you, and who can help you make decisions with your best interest in mind.

How Do You Ask the Tough Questions?

As we get into midlife, our bodies are likely to change in ways that worry us or at least puzzle us. These changes can be difficult to discuss with a healthcare provider, but in order to stay on top of your health, you will want to ask some important questions. Here are some examples of ways you can bring these topics up with your healthcare provider:

  1. I’m noticing some vaginal dryness during sex. Is there something I can do about this?
  2. My hot flashes are making my life miserable. What are my choices for treating them?
  3. I don’t seem interested in sex anymore, is this normal?
  4. I am really sad all the time, could this be my hormones?
  5. I seem “edgy” and angry a lot — is mood change part of menopause?
  6. My periods are very heavy and I’m tired all the time. What could be causing that?

When you ask questions like these, it is reasonable to expect your medical provider to listen carefully and then talk about:

  • What the possible causes are for your symptom
  • Any testing that is appropriate to rule out dangerous causes
  • Possible treatments, with their risks and benefits

If you haven’t done so before, menopause is a great time to become a partner in your health care. As more baby boomers become menopausal, healthcare providers will become familiar with these concerns and with an approach that puts you in charge of your health care. If you want to find a menopause specialist in your area, here are some places to look:

  • University medical centers where “women’s health” is a specialty
  • Medical practices that specialize in gynecology, not obstetrics
  • Healthcare centers and providers who list gynecology or "women’s health" as an area of practice
  • Talk to your friends — word of mouth is a common way to find a good healthcare provider

Don’t be afraid to call around. Asking some questions upfront can save you time and emotional energy when you are looking for a healthcare provider who is a good fit for you.

Remember, the best predictor of health after menopause is your health before menopause — so finding someone to advise and support you during this transition is the perfect investment in your future. Oh, and when you find someone good, spread the word to your friends. We’re all in this together, and a referral to a great doc is priceless.

By Kate Bracy, RN, NP
Kate Bracy, RN, MS, NP, is a registered nurse and certified nurse practitioner who specializes in women's health and family planning.