The transition to menopause is a big shift in a woman’s life. Knowing what questions to ask your healthcare professional and how to prepare for your appointment can help you get a lot more out of the consultation. Here’s what you need to know about menopause, and how to speak to your healthcare professional about it.
The transition to menopause is a big shift in a woman’s life. Unpredictable symptoms such as mood swings and hot flushes can feel confusing and overwhelming, particularly if you don’t know where to turn for help.
“Menopause symptoms can be really hard to deal with if you don’t have the right guidance and support,” says Simone Barrance, Science and Education Manager at SFI Health.
“Speaking to your healthcare professional about your symptoms is an important first step in learning how to navigate your menopause in the best possible way for you.”
Knowing what questions to ask and how to prepare for your appointment can help you get a lot more out of the consultation.
Here’s what you need to know about menopause, and how to speak to your healthcare professional about it.
Menopause is a natural biological process that marks the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle. It is defined as being 12 consecutive months after your last period, meaning your ovaries are no longer releasing eggs and you cannot fall pregnant naturally. Most women go into menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, although it can happen earlier or later.
The transition to menopause is called perimenopause. This period includes lots of hormonal changes, which can result in symptoms such as night sweats, weight gain, hot flushes, mood swings and vaginal dryness.
“It’s important to talk to a healthcare professional, like your doctor, pharmacist or a naturopath if you think you’re experiencing perimenopause or menopause – even if you have mild symptoms that aren’t affecting your day-to-day life,” says Barrance.
“It can be reassuring to get professional advice about what to expect during this stage of your life, and how to deal with any symptoms that arise. Speaking to your health professional can help you navigate your menopause with confidence.”
Never feel embarrassed to speak about menopause or its symptoms. “Your healthcare professional is there to help you,” says Barrance. “They’re used to having conversations about perimenopause, menopause, and everything that goes with it. It’s important to be open and honest with them.”
There’s no set time to speak about menopause. “It’s something to do when you feel ready,” says Barrance. “However, if you’re experiencing symptoms that are affecting your daily life, then don’t put it off – professional advice and treatment could make a huge difference to your physical and emotional wellbeing.”
If you’re under 45 and experiencing perimenopause or menopause symptoms, it’s recommended you speak to your healthcare professional as soon as possible.
Not immediately. “The first port of call can be your GP, pharmacist or naturopath. Ideally this is someone you already know and feel comfortable with,” says Barrance. “If you don’t have a regular doctor who you’re comfortable talking to, ask the receptionist when you book your appointment which health professional in clinic might be best to talk to.”
Once you’ve had your initial consultation and discussed your symptoms, they may refer you to a specialist if they think you need further advice.
"When you arrive, let your health professional know that you are here to talk about menopause,” says Barrance. “If it’s a general chat, they may talk to you about the different stages of menopause and common symptoms. They may also suggest lifestyle changes to improve your health and wellbeing, as well as discussing the benefits and risks of any treatment.”
It’s also important to consider what you want out of the appointment. “Think about the outcomes you’d like,” says Barrance. “You might be looking for a referral to a specialist, medication to help your symptoms, or health and lifestyle advice. Knowing what you’d like to happen during your appointment can help guide the conversation.
“Make it clear when you book your appointment that you’d specifically like to discuss menopause,” advises Barrance. “It’s a good idea to book a double appointment so you’re not rushed.”
Before you arrive, make a note of any symptoms you might be experiencing. To help, check out our discussion tool – which you can fill in and print out to take to the doctor with you.
“Be specific about your symptoms, and give as much detail as you can,” says Barrance. “This includes information about the impact any symptoms are having on your life, and if anything makes your symptoms better or worse.”
Symptoms to look out for and track include:
Headaches. Headaches can become frequent during perimenopause and menopause due to fluctuating hormone levels. Keep a diary of your headaches, including dates, times and specific symptoms (include details such as fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and sensitivity to light or sound). Tracking your headaches will help you identify any patterns, and it should become clear if your headaches are linked to your menstrual cycle.
Disturbed sleep. Up to 60 per cent of post-menopausal women experience some form of sleeplessness, which often starts during menopause.1 The sleep-producing hormone progesterone fluctuates during menopause, and this can affect your ability to both fall asleep and stay asleep. Keep a note of how regularly you’re waking, how you feel when you’re awake, and how this lack of sleep affects you throughout the day.
Night sweats and hot flushes. Fluctuating hormones can cause excessive sweating, particularly at night. These hot flushes, or night sweats, can affect the quality of your sleep. Keep a note of how regularly you’re experiencing night sweats or hot flushes, whether it’s linked to your menstrual cycle, and whether it’s having a knock-on effect in other areas of your life.
Vaginal dryness. During menopause, vaginal dryness is caused by a drop in oestrogen. Make a note of any other symptoms related to vaginal dryness, including itching, soreness, discomfort during sex, how frequently you’re passing urine, and any urinary tract infections.
Anxiety or nervous tension. Over half of women aged between 45 and 55 who are experiencing perimenopausal symptoms experience some form of anxiety.2 This may be linked to a drop in oestrogen, but could also be the result of poor sleep quality due to night sweats or hot flushes. Make note of when you feel anxious, what triggers your anxiety, and how it affects other areas of your life.
Loss of libido. Reduced testosterone and oestrogen levels can result in loss of sex drive during menopause. A change in your libido may also be caused by vaginal dryness, fatigue and anxiety, which are all other symptoms of menopause. It can be helpful to keep track of any other symptoms you think might be affecting your libido, so your doctor can help find an appropriate treatment.
Mood swings or irritability. When oestrogen and progesterone fluctuate, this can affect serotonin – the hormone that regulates and boosts your mood. Perimenopausal or menopausal mood swings can make you feel ‘normal’ and then intensely irritated within a matter of minutes. Track your moods by keeping a diary that includes what you eat, how much sleep you get, whether you exercised, how you feel at different times of the day, and whether anything in particular triggers your mood swings.
Weight gain. Declining oestrogen can lead to weight gain during perimenopause and menopause, particularly around the abdomen. Speak to your doctor about any other lifestyle factors that may be causing you to gain weight.
Joint pain. Oestrogen reduces inflammation in the body. During menopause, as oestrogen declines, you may notice aches and pains in your joints. Talk to your doctor about anything that exacerbates or eases this pain.
Your periods change during perimenopause and menopause. As well as becoming irregular, they may become shorter, longer or heavier than normal. You may experience spotting between periods, too.
When you talk to your healthcare professional about how your cycle has changed, be really specific. This will help them understand how these changes have affected you. Before your appointment make notes with details on:
You should let them know if you’re on any medication they aren’t aware of, especially hormone treatments – such as the Pill – or any complementary or alternative medicines.
It’s also helpful to know a little bit about your family history. Details such as the age your mum went through menopause, how it affected her, and any family history of breast cancer can help your heath professional treat your symptoms effectively and safely.
Your healthcare professional will likely ask questions about your menstrual cycle and your symptoms to confirm whether you’re in menopause.
Tests aren’t generally used to confirm menopause. However, sometimes GPs might run a blood test, particularly if you’re under 45. This test measures the levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and oestradiol, which fluctuate during perimenopause and menopause. However, because these hormones fluctuate regularly, the test isn’t always reliable.
It’s a good idea to write down anything you want to ask, so you can be sure you get all the information you need. You might want to ask questions such as:
There are lots of different ways of treating menopause symptoms. Your healthcare professional will assess your symptoms and any risk factors before suggesting a treatment that might be suitable for you. Treatments include:
Lifestyle changes. If your symptoms are mild, your doctor may suggest managing them through a healthy lifestyle. This might include losing weight, exercising regularly, reducing the amount of alcohol you drink, and eating a healthy diet.
Supplements. Some supplements and herbal medicines can help with perimenopause and menopause symptoms. Black cohosh, which is the main ingredient in Femular and Femular Forte, can act to reduce hot flushes and help relieve other menopausal symptoms.3 Always speak to your healthcare professional before taking herbal supplements.
ALWAYS READ THE LABEL AND FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS FOR USE.
Treatment and doses of medication for menopause symptoms can be trial and error, so talk to your healthcare professional if your medication doesn’t suit you and make regular appointments to discuss whether your medication is working for you.
To help guide your conversation with your healthcare professional use our menopause questionnaire. This helps you think about your symptoms, make a list of how they are affecting you, and lets you print out the information to take to your consultation.
Explore the more sensitive questions about menopause, plus some surprising symptoms, and get the straight-up answers you need. It’s not so daunting when you know your options.