You may have picked your gynecologist back when birth control was your biggest concern or when you were ready to have babies. While they may have done an excellent job helping you through those stages of life, it doesn’t mean that they are your best choice to guide you through your post-reproductive years. “Your body changes as you age and as you go through menopause,” says Rebecca Dunsmoor-Su, M.D. and Chief Medical Officer for Gennev.com. “Having someone who understands those changes and what your hormones are doing, as well as your long-term health needs and risks, is key to keeping yourself healthy for a long life.”
The changes during midlife involve more than just your reproductive system. You have estrogen receptors throughout your body, so when estrogen levels start to fluctuate, nearly every system in your body is affected, resulting in a wide array of symptoms. You may experience anything from brain fog, mood swings, dry eyes, angry outbursts, joint pain, gastrointestinal issues, and heart palpitations, along with (or without) the more telltale signs of menopause like irregular periods and hot flashes. Many of these lesser-known symptoms can start years before the classic signs. A doctor, who isn’t familiar with the symptomology of menopause, may brush off symptoms as simply “getting older” or may even prescribe anti-depressants when there are treatments that could help. This can leave you feeling alone, frustrated, and even questioning your sanity.
A doctor trained as a menopause specialist will know what to look for to determine if your symptoms are a sign that you’re in perimenopause, the time period before your periods stop completely, or if they may be due to another issue. If they are related to perimenopause, they will be able to offer you treatments that are best for your personal situation, not a one-size-fits-all solution or the latest popular treatment.
It’s never too early to start talking to a menopause specialist
Even if your menopause symptoms are manageable, you’ll benefit from seeking care from a menopause specialist. With the average age of menopause being 51 and women’s life expectancy stretching into their 80s, that means about 30 years of health issues to navigate. “Along with symptom management, training in menopause also encompasses long-term bone health and long-term cardiovascular health,” says Dunsmoor-Su. The right doctor can help you delay or even avoid some of these health issues. That’s why it’s never too early to start talking to a menopause specialist. When you’re in your 40s or done having children, you should start to look for a doctor who can help you thrive in the second half of your life.
Unfortunately, most doctors, even ob/gyns, receive little training in menopause and post-menopause care. According to a 2019 survey of family medicine, internal medicine, and obstetrics and gynecology residents, one in five reported that they didn’t receive any menopause lectures during their residency. So, it’s not surprising that less than seven percent of them said that they feel “adequately prepared to manage women experiencing menopause.”
While the odds may seem like they’re against you, there are some easy ways to find a menopause-trained doctor.
How to Find a Menopause-Trained Doctor
Start with NAMS. That’s short for the North American Menopause Society. This non-profit organization is focused on providing high-quality care for women during perimenopause and beyond. To improve care, NAMS offers training and certification. Health professionals who pass a competency exam earn the credentials of NCMP (NAMS Certified Menopause Practitioner), which they must renew every three years by either retaking the exam or earning continuing education credits. You can search for an NCMP in your area by using the “Find a Menopause Practitioner” feature on the NAMS website. If a doctor is not an NCMP, that doesn’t mean they aren’t qualified to deal with menopause issues, but you may want to conduct a bit more research.
If you cannot find a NAMS provider near you or with near-term availability, menopause telehealth provider Gennev has board-certified gynecologists trained in menopause with availability within three to four days. Starting with a telehealth appointment for initial diagnosis and even prescription support can be a credible and convenient way to manage your post-reproductive health.
Ask for recommendations. Talk to friends, family members, and co-workers of your age to see if they have a doctor with whom they are happy. You can even ask your other doctors—especially if they are peers.
Do some research. Read online profiles of potential doctors, seeing if they list a specialty or interest in menopause or aging women. Call the office and ask what percentage of the doctor’s practice is women who are in midlife and post-menopausal.
Request an informational appointment. Whether in-person or video, you can learn a lot about a doctor and get a sense of whether or not you feel comfortable with them by speaking with them. When the subject matter is your sex life, body parts down there, and periods, you’ll get better care if you feel like you can be open with them. You also want to look for a doctor whose style matches yours. Some doctors are more nurturing, while others are more business-like. You want someone you connect with, who will encourage open and honest communication, and who makes you feel like you’re in this together.
The right doctor can be the difference between barely surviving or thriving during this next stage of life. And once you’ve found them, here are some essential questions to ask to help build a collaborative relationship.
Essential Questions for Your Doctor
- What screenings or tests do I need and when? Catching problems early will help to prevent more serious issues later.
- How will I know if I’m in perimenopause? Symptoms, not hormone tests, are the best way to assess where you are in your reproductive life. Hormone levels are constantly fluctuating, and tests only capture one point in time.
- Can other conditions besides menopause cause symptoms, and how will we know? Many symptoms like fatigue, sleep issues, weight changes, and joint pain can have multiple causes. You and your doctor should develop a plan to assess your symptoms over time to determine the appropriate course of action.
- When can I stop using birth control? Until you’ve officially hit menopause — one year without a period — there’s always a chance, albeit slim, that you could get pregnant. Your doctor may also prescribe birth control pills to manage symptoms.
- What is your approach to hormone replacement therapy (HRT)? There are different reasons to consider using HRT, such as managing hot flashes or protecting against cardiovascular issues, and each requires a different approach. In addition, you should take your family and your personal medical history into account.
- How will you monitor my long-term health, such as my cardiovascular and bone health? Heart attacks are the biggest killer of women and, as you age, bone fractures can rob you of your independence and even prove fatal.
- What can I do to improve my heart and bone health? It’s easier to stay healthy than it is to improve after problems start.
So, don’t wait until menopause symptoms make your life miserable. If you’re a woman, it’s never too soon or too late to get informed and Gennev, a virtual health clinic for women 40+, is a great place to start. If you’re premenopausal, a menopause-trained doctor or health coach can help you understand how to take care of yourself now to feel great and avoid problems in the future. If you’re in perimenopause or if you’re post-menopausal, these professionals can offer relief from symptoms and strategies to protect your bones, brain, heart, soul, and body for a vibrant next chapter in your life.
Author: Michele Stanten