Thursday, October 18th is World Menopause Day. This is like a worldwide birthday party for the big M! This year, the sponsoring organization, the International Menopause Society (IMS), is launching a campaign to focus on the health implications of weight gain during menopause. (Coincidentally, we blogged about weight gain a few weeks ago.) What are some ways you can honor and celebrate yourself or other women you know who are experiencing perimenopause or menopause? How about throwing a Menopause Party? Or update your Facebook status with a link to this fact sheet from the IMS. Talk to your daughter about hormones and how they affect women’s health. Basically, open up the channels of communication and break this taboo that somehow still lingers around the topic of menopause. It’s silly, and it’s time we’re done with it. Raise a toast to you and to women worldwide who share this passage of womanhood. Let’s celebrate like it’s a party all over the world. (btw, Olivia Newton John is 64. Xanadu!)
Last week, I placed a very brief pause on my series, Ellen’s 5 Steps to Hormone Happiness, and instead broke open the conversation on Vaginal Atrophy. I had just finished co-chairing a Social Media Roundtable discussion on this subject sponsored by Novo Nordisk, and I just had to share what I learned. Now, we can continue our regularly scheduled broadcast with Step 2 in my plan to bring hormone happiness to women everywhere …
If you tuned in previously, you read the first edition of our brand new section, Ask Ellen. Ask Ellen is just one way we’re giving voice to the sisterhood to share their experiences. By opening up and reaching out, we are empowered, and we widen the circle of the perimenopause and menopause conversation. (You know, the conversation that most likely no one ever had with you.) We spoke with Leigh, a busy wife and mother of six kids who has been battling severe hot flashes through the heat of the summer and the recent marriages of two of her sons. Leigh and I talked about a lot, but the main theme of our conversation was opening up and reaching out. That is Step Numero Uno! Leigh, like many other busy women, had prioritized her family and others in her life higher than dealing with her own increasingly severe symptoms. If you are in a similar situation, you first must decide to reach out for help. Opening up to the people in your life – your spouse, children, friends – suddenly reveals that you are not alone and begins building your support network. Whatever your personal style is, the journey to hormone happiness begins when you first reach out!
Now it’s time for Step 2: finding your very own perimenopause and menopause specialist. To understand your options and the risks and benefits of different treatments, you need to have a partner who is a perimenopause and menopause specialist. Perimenopause is known for the rapid changes it brings. These changes can be physical, psychological, and emotional. You deserve and need a doctor who understands and treats YOU – mind, body and spirit.
You may wish your doctor looked like George Clooney or Sofía Vergara, but the most important qualities are that your specialist is up on the latest information, that you feel completely comfortable speaking openly with them, and that they are a full partner in your journey to find hormone happiness.
Start a list of potential specialists.
1. Talk to your current doctor. Most women believe, for good reasons, that their gynecologist, to whom they’ve trusted their bodies and the birth of their children is the same person who will advise them and guide them through perimenopause and menopause. I thought this, too! You should ask your gynecologist or primary care physician if they have had continuing training in menopause healthcare and also if they have a particular interest in the subject. They should not be offended by your questions; they should be engaged in helping you find the best care possible.
2. Check with your insurance provider. Many companies now have web tools for locating doctors by specialty that are in their network of providers. This will help eliminate disappointment later if you find just the right doctor and then find he or she doesn’t accept your insurance. You can always choose to pay the premium if you find a great doctor who is out-of-network.
3. Use my Menopause Doctor Directory for a list of doctors in your area who have been recommended by the sisterhood. No doctor can pay to be on this list. Only doctors recommended by my readers are included. So, if you find a great specialist who is not on the list, email me, and I’ll add them!
4. You can also try the Websites of the organizations whose members specialize in menopausal medicine: The North American Menopause Society; The American Society of Reproductive Medicine; and The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
5. Call a local university to see if they have an OB/GYN department. They may be able to recommend a specialist.
6. Ditto for your local hospital or medical centers. Call and speak to a labor and delivery nurse for possible names of specialists.
7. You can contact your local pharmacy and/or a compounding pharmacy. Talk to the pharmacist. They often have a list of menopause specialists that they recommend.
8. Finally, and continuing the opening up process you began with step 1, ask trusted friends and associates. Work your network. Even ask your favorite doctor. All great doctors know who the great doctors are. A great doctor may be waiting within a few quick introductions. If not, keep reaching out until you have your list of 3 to 5 doctors.
Once your list of potential specialists is complete, stalk them. No, really …
1. Google their names.
2. See if they have a professional Facebook page or a website for their practice.
3. Verify that they are currently licensed. Go to the American Medical Association for a link to your state’s Medical Licensing Board.
4. Check to see if they’re listed on sites like ratemds.com or healthgrades.com.
Do your homework.
For the doctors that pass this “sniff test,” call to set up an appointment for a phone or in-person interview. In order to ask informed questions, you need first to do your reading. You need to go into both the doctor interview and your first appointment with the knowledge you need to understand what’s going on with your body. There are a lot of options out there. Your relationship with your specialist will be strengthened if you do your homework.
EllenDolgen.com contains a wealth of information, blog posts, and links to recent news articles. By registering (for free) on our homepage, you will automatically receive my weekly blog, Menopause Mondays, as well as my weekly Menopause News Flash which is distributed each Thursday. I promise to scour the web to bring you the latest information and advice available. Really, think of me as part of your support network. Read up on the changes in your body that cause menopause, familiarize yourself with the complete list of symptoms, and begin investigating different treatment options (both homeopathic and hormone replacement). Don’t rule anything out yet. The objective at this point is to equip yourself with the information you need to ask the right questions both during the doctor interview and during your first visit once you’ve chosen a specialist.
Compile a list of questions for your doctor interviews.
As you become more informed, start a list of questions to ask during your doctor interviews. These interviews may be conducted over the phone, or you may prefer to do this in person to get a better feel for the doctor’s personality and bedside manner. Some doctors may agree to be interviewed without charging you for a visit. Ask!
Here are some questions you may want to ask:
1. Have you had continuing education related to menopause healthcare or endocrinology? How do you keep up-to-date on all of the research and new findings related to menopause healthcare?
2. How long does it usually take to get an appointment?
3. If I call the office during office hours with a question, how is that handled?
4. If I call after hours with an emergency, who answers the phone?
5. How many patients do you usually see in a typical day? How much time do you schedule for each patient?
6. How many of your patients are women over 40?
7. How would you approach evaluating and choosing the best treatment option(s) for me?
8. Can you speak to your philosophy and opinion of treatment options for women in different stages of perimenopause and menopause?
9. What tests would you administer to evaluate my hormone levels? How would you monitor my hormone levels over time?
10. Are you open to all treatment options? How do you feel about hormone replacement therapy?
How do you feel about alternative therapies? Are you informed about how traditional and alternative therapies may interact?
11. How do you feel about the use of anti-depressants to treat menopause symptoms?
12. I have read books and articles and have done my own research and will have a lot of questions. I may even bring something to you to read about a treatment option. Are you open to this kind of input from your patients?
Listen not just to what they say but how they say it. Do any of these questions seem to agitate them? When you ask about having input in your treatment, do they bristle or is it clear from their body language and tone of voice that they are truly open to a partnership with you? Use your intuition as well as your intellect to evaluate each doctor. How do you feel after the conversation? Refreshed? Informed? Optimistic? Or, do you feel tired, discouraged, or left with unanswered questions? These are likely the feelings you will have after each visit with this doctor.
If you do your homework and follow these guidelines, you will no doubt find a menopause specialist who you trust and who has the skills and knowledge necessary to provide excellent care and informed medical advice. Simply by starting this process, you will experience a shift within yourself that feels right. This will be a sign that you are moving towards a solution, towards hormone happiness, towards health and well-being. You deserve no less.
Next week, Step 3: Chart your menopause symptoms.
Remember: Reaching out is IN! Suffering in silence is OUT!
Tell me: For those of you who have a great menopause doctor/partner, how did you find your specialist?