Menopause is often treated as a taboo subject, but it shouldn’t be. Perimenopause and menopause are normal parts of the life cycle for people assigned female at birth.
Menopause is defined as the absence of menstrual cycles for 12 or more months. Perimenopause refers to the years leading up to menopause.
Talking with your doctor about menopause can help you learn what to expect, how to manage symptoms, and how to protect your health as you age.
This guide will help you learn when to talk with your doctor about menopause and how to get the most from your conversations with them.
The best time to talk with your doctor about menopause is early and often, Sheryl Kingsberg, PhD, told Healthline. Kingsberg is a psychologist and division chief of behavioral medicine in the OB-GYN department of UH Cleveland Medical Center in Ohio.
“The conversation should start before women are even perimenopausal. There needs to be education around what’s to come,” said Kingsberg. “That conversation should start no later than somebody’s 40s.”
The average age of menopause in the United States is 51 years old, but some people go through natural menopause at an earlier or later age.
“One rough way to kind of gauge whether you’re in for earlier versus later menopause is talking to your mother and your sisters,” advised Jennifer Wu, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Lennox Hill Hospital in New York City, NY.
“If a patient has a family history of premature female menopause, we want to keep careful track of them. If they go through early menopause, we often prescribe hormone therapy,” she said.
When the ovaries stop functioning as they should before age 40, this is known as premature ovarian failure. While uncommon, it requires additional testing. It’s typically treated with hormone therapy until the average age of menopause.
Certain medical treatments can also cause early and sudden menopause. These include surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy on your ovaries. While surgical menopause is permanent, chemotherapy- or radiation-induced menopause is sometimes temporary.
If you think you might be experiencing symptoms of menopause, let your doctor know. They can help confirm whether menopause is the cause of your symptoms and recommend a treatment plan.
Your doctor can also help you learn how to limit bone loss, which accelerates at menopause.
“When patients’ periods start skipping and they start having symptoms of menopause, they’re also losing bone at that time,” said Wu. “So they need regular screenings for bone density. They need to make sure they’re getting enough calcium and vitamin D.
“We also want to talk to them about weight-bearing exercise because that’s important to help stave off bone loss — and many patients don’t realize what weight-bearing exercise is.”
Changes in your menstrual period are often the first sign of perimenopause.
Your menstrual cycles might become longer or shorter than usual. You might skip periods. You might find that your menstrual flow is heavier or lighter than usual.
Perimenopause and menopause can also affect your body in other ways, which may cause a variety of symptoms.
Symptoms of menopause-related changes:
- hot flashes, or sudden feelings of heat in your upper body and face
- night sweats, or hot flashes that wake you from sleep
- difficulty falling or staying sleeping
- vaginal dryness or discomfort
- pain during sex
- reduced libido
- frequent urination
- difficulty controlling urination
- vaginal or urinary tract infections
- cognitive changes, such as memory loss
- mood changes, such as irritability or depression
- joint pain or stiffness
Other health conditions can also cause changes in your menstrual period or symptoms similar to menopause. That’s why it’s so important to talk with your doctor about changes in your health.
Your doctor can help you learn whether the changes are caused by menopause or another condition. They can also recommend lifestyle changes, medications, or other treatments to help manage your symptoms.
“What I would emphasize to patients is that for all of these symptoms, there’s often a fix. So please speak about it with your doctor,” said Wu. “Why suffer in silence?”
Early treatment may help stop symptoms from getting worse and limit the effects of menopause on daily activities.
Asking your doctor questions about menopause can help you learn what to expect and what you can do to manage symptoms.
Questions to ask your doctor about menopause:
- What are the symptoms of menopause that I might develop?
- What should I do if I develop new or worse symptoms?
- What should I do if I develop new or worse symptoms?
- What are the potential causes of my current symptoms?
- Could they be caused by menopause or another condition?
- Do I need to receive any tests to check for potential causes?
- What do those tests involve and how much do they cost?
- What steps can I take to manage my symptoms?
- Are there lifestyle changes that I can make to manage my symptoms?
- Are there medications or other treatments available to my manage symptoms?
- What are the potential benefits, risks, and cost of each treatment approach?
- How long should it take for the treatment to work? What should I do if it doesn’t work?
- What are the potential side effects of treatment? What should I do if I develop side effects?
- How can I protect my bone health?
- Should I undergo bone density screening? When and how often?
- Should I get my calcium and vitamin D levels checked?
- How can I make sure that I’m getting enough calcium and vitamin D?
- Do I need to do more weight-bearing exercise to protect my bones?
- What types of activities count as weight-bearing exercise?
- Should I see a bone specialist?
- Are there other steps I can take to manage menopause and stay healthy as I get older?
Depending on your specific symptoms, health history, and preferences, your doctor might recommend nonhormonal treatments or hormone replacement therapy to treat symptoms of menopause.
Hormone replacement therapy provides a safe and effective treatment option for most people. Your doctor can help you understand the potential benefits and risks.
Some people feel reluctant to talk about symptoms of menopause, even with a doctor. Some find it hard to get the information or support they need during doctor’s appointments.
Here are some strategies for talking about menopause with your doctor and making the most of each appointment.
Remember: Menopause symptoms are common and treatable
If you feel self-conscious talking about menopause, you’re not alone. It’s important to remember that menopause symptoms are common, as well as treatable. Your doctor shouldn’t judge you for experiencing symptoms of menopause.
“Symptoms related to menopause are common, they are treatable, and you should not suffer in silence,” said Kingsberg. “While you might think of it as embarrassing, these are things your healthcare professional should be talking with you about.”
If your doctor doesn’t have the necessary training or experience to address your menopause-related concerns, they can refer you to a specialist who does.
Look for a doctor you feel comfortable with
You might feel more comfortable talking about menopause with some doctors compared with others. It’s important to find a doctor that you can speak with openly and honestly.
You might also find it easier to talk with a doctor that you know well. If you currently rely on drop-in clinics for healthcare, consider looking for a general practitioner or menopause specialist that you can see on a regular basis.
If you’re dissatisfied with your doctor’s communication skills, your relationship with them, or the care you’re receiving, consider looking for a different doctor.
Make a list of your concerns
Consider preparing for doctor’s appointments by making a list of your top questions or concerns.
“Write down and make sure you check off each point that you want to bring up — whether it’s your symptoms, questions about what to expect, or treatment options,” said Kingsberg.
This might help you stay on track during your appointments, especially if you feel nervous or pressed for time.
Do some research beforehand
You might also find it helpful to research menopause-related information before your doctor’s appointment. This may help you feel more comfortable or confident talking with your doctor.
Look for credible sources of information developed by medical experts.
Credible sources of menopause-related information:
You can also ask your doctor for information about menopause. If you don’t understand the information they share with you, ask them to explain it in simpler terms.
Bring a friend or family member
If you feel more comfortable with a friend or family member by your side, ask them to accompany you to your doctor’s appointment.
They can provide emotional support, help take notes, and raise questions that you might not have remembered or thought about.
General practitioners can often address many menopause-related questions and concerns. Depending on the reason for your visit, it may not be possible to thoroughly discuss menopause. But you can begin the conversation and plan a follow-up visit with the same provider to talk further.
Other times, you may want to see a specialist to get the information or treatment that you need.
Depending on your specific questions and concerns, you might benefit from seeing a gynecologist, mental health specialist, or other healthcare professional with menopause expertise.
To find a healthcare professional with menopause expertise:
- Ask around. Ask friends, family members, or other members of your social network for recommendations. They might have seen a healthcare professional for similar questions or concerns.
- Get a referral. If your current doctor is unable to provide the necessary support, consider asking them for a referral to a menopause specialist.
- Search the NAMS database. This online directory includes NAMS members and NAMS-Certified Menopause Practitioners (NCMPs). NCMPS are licensed healthcare professionals with exam-tested expertise in menopause.
- Look for a menopause clinic. Some healthcare centers operate specialized clinics for people experiencing perimenopause or menopause. You can search online for menopause clinics near you.
During your first appointment with a new healthcare professional, pay attention to how they communicate with you and how you feel. It’s important to find someone who listens to your concerns, encourages you to ask questions, and helps you find solutions that fit your needs.
If you don’t feel well supported or comfortable talking with them, they’re not the best fit for you. Continue looking for another healthcare professional who can meet our needs.
Menopause is a normal part of the life cycle that may affect your body in a variety of ways.
Speaking with your doctor about menopause can help you learn what to expect, how to manage symptoms, and how to stay healthy as you age. Let them know if you develop changes in your menstrual cycle or other symptoms of menopause. They can help determine the cause of your symptoms and recommend treatment.
If your doctor isn’t qualified to address your menopause-related concerns, they can refer you to a menopause specialist. You can also find menopause specialists by searching the NAMS database or looking for a specialty menopause clinic.
It’s important to find a healthcare professional who’s not only qualified to treat menopause-related issues but also easy to talk with. They should listen carefully to your concerns and encourage you to ask questions. Finding the right doctor can help you get the information and support you need to manage menopause and life beyond.