Menopause: how to get the best from your GP appointment

Female doctor holding application form while consulting patient

Talking to your doctor about menopause symptoms can sometimes feel intimidating. With GP appointments at a premium, just getting through the door can feel like a battle these days.

And when the doctor asks you what’s wrong before the door has even closed, it can be daunting to say the least to launch into the reasons you’re there. Particularly when it’s a subject like menopause.

Female doctor holding application form while consulting patientBut your GP is there to help. Most appointments are fairly short, but you can get the most out of your valuable GP appointment by preparing what to ask in advance.

Your GP will be working to guidelines set out by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), a non-departmental public body which develops guidelines for health and social care based on evidence. Accountable to the Department of Health, NICE is nevertheless an independent organisation.

It’s important to note that the legislation surrounding NICE means its guidance is only officially for England. The organisation does have agreements in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with devolved administrations making the decisions on how to use the guidance.

Under the guidelines, your medical practitioner should involve you in decision-making and give you enough information to help you make your own choices. Read more here: Menopause Guidance for Patients.

Here are some of the frequent questions we hear from women:

I’m worried my doctor will just put this down to that ‘time of life’. How can I get them to listen to me?

GPs have to be able to deal with a huge variety of different issues and it’s a fact that they simply can’t all be good at all of them. Women’s health is a hugely challenging area and you don’t need specialist gynaecological training to be a GP. So your doctor’s knowledge will vary depending on the level of training they’ve had in this area.

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However, that’s not to say there’s nothing you can do. If you feel your doctor is unhelpful then you can request to see another doctor at your practice, who will not necessarily share the same views. Now is also a good time to make friends with the receptionists at your practice. Ask them who the best person is to speak to about menopause. It might be a different GP to the one you usually see, or it could be a nurse practitioner.

It comes down to which doctor has had the most training in menopause, and for that matter who is most interested in it. It will be a hugely individual thing across the nation and across different regions and practices, so do your homework, ask around and book in an appointment to see who is considered to be the best one to talk to about menopause.

I only get ten minutes with the doctor if I’m lucky. How can I say everything I need to?

There is great pressure on GP surgeries, which can put non-urgent appointments further down the list – this is why you’ll sometimes find it hard to get an appointment very quickly. Currently, GP appointments are about ten minutes long. And when you want to talk about hot flushes, mood swings, vaginal dryness and heavy bleeding it might not feel like long enough – it can be very difficult to get the words out when you’re talking about intimate matters.

But your GP is a professional and has heard it all before. To get the right treatment you need to describe your symptoms, so don’t be afraid to talk about what’s bothering you. Armed with the right information, you can use your appointment time very wisely.

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Read and learn as much as you possibly can in advance, so you can confidently talk to your doctor or nurse about what you’d like from them. So you can say to your doctor if you’d like to try HRT, or you have heard that localised vaginal oestrogen can help with dryness, for example, or that you’d like a Mirena coil fitted to stem your heavy bleeding. Always ask for your GP’s opinions. They know your medical history and can explain your options and any associated risks.

Some surgeries offer longer appointments if you think you need them, so if you really feel your usual appointment length won’t be enough ask the receptionist to book you in for back-to-back appointments if they are available.

If you think you’ll still struggle, set a plan and prioritise your symptoms rather than tackling them all at once.

Ultimately, if you think your GP isn’t taking you seriously then go and see someone who will – it could be another doctor in the same surgery. Don’t give up and never feel that all options have been closed to you.

Is there such a thing as a menopause clinic?

It depends where you live. Unfortunately, NHS funding means these aren’t available everywhere – managing your menopause is seen as quality of life, rather than life threatening. There are some available, and it’s worth checking to find out if there’s one near you – it might not be in your immediate vicinity, but you could be able to get a referral to your nearest one.

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If you feel you need extra, specialist support that isn’t available to you on the NHS then it may be something you need to consider paying for. Or check out Dr Morton’s online women’s health service.

Ultimately, you should never feel afraid to speak to your GP or other practitioner until you are satisfied you’re being offered the right treatment for you.

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