Dr Lindsey Thomas on making the most of your GP visit

Lots of things have changed in the last few years in terms of how we access different aspects of our lives, including our healthcare appointments. But things may well have been changing for you too.

You might have noticed a change in your periods; they might be closer together, or you may have started to miss the odd one. You might be starting to experience hot flushes or night sweats, or generally just not feeling quite like yourself. And you’ve decided that the time has come to make an appointment to discuss this with your GP.

Some practices have changed their appointment system because of the Covid pandemic. Some of these changes have been beneficial, but for some it may have added an extra layer of anxiety about booking an appointment. With health services stretched it may not seem the right time to make an appointment, but it absolutely is!

Below I’m going to discuss ways to hopefully make your appointment more effective with the outcome you are hoping for.

Booking an appointment

Most initial appointments with a GP or practice nurse will involve a remote appointment. This is likely to involve a degree of triage to see if a remote appointment is appropriate, or whether it might be better for you to be seen face to face.

In most cases an appointment for menopause care lends itself to being seen remotely. If it is felt that you would benefit from a face-to-face appointment, particularly if you are experiencing symptoms that may need to be examined, your GP will suggest this as a way forward.

When booking your appointment. It’s important to make sure this will be at a time where you can focus on yourself, without other distractions, which will make it more difficult to discuss all of your concerns.

It is also important to think about who you are booking your appointment with. Most GP practices have several GPs to choose from. By their very name GPs are generalists. But most will have areas they specialise more in.

There will often be a GP at your practice who specialises in women’s health and possibly even in the menopause. It’s important to ask about this so that you are booked in with the most appropriate person. Sometimes this might not be a GP, it might be a nurse or a physician’s associate. You could ask the receptionist who the best person in your practice may be.

You may be experiencing a few different symptoms you want to discuss as well as treatment options, and sometimes this can be difficult to accomplish within one appointment, those 10 minutes go every quickly!  So, if possible, ask if you can book a double appointment and explain the reasons behind this. This might not always be possible until you have had a triage appointment, but it may be an option for you.

Be prepared

The symptoms of the menopause are wide and varied, due to the impact of oestrogen all over the body. In total there are thought to be 38 symptoms, but there may well be more than this. Keeping a diary of your symptoms or filling in a symptom checker, helps to focus your symptoms as being menopausal, but also highlight those which are most important to you. These can be downloaded online here.

It’s also helpful to have information about your family’s medical history, as you are likely to be asked about this, most importantly any history of breast cancer or thrombosis ( a blood clot). In most cases this won’t impact on whether you can have HRT , but it should be part of the conversation.

What would you like out of your appointment?

At this point it’s worth having a think about what you actually want. You may have done lots of reading and research and feel confident that you would like to start HRT.

Alternatively, you may not be at that point, and you may just want confirmation from your GP that they agree that your symptoms sound menopausal. Along with understanding more about what treatments are available for you.

With this in mind its good at the beginning of an appointment to lay this out, for example to say, ‘I’ve been experiencing symptoms of the peri-menopause and I’d like to talk about starting HRT’. This sets out from the very beginning where you would like this appointment to go.

What to expect?

In a menopause consultation to individualise your options to you would expect to talk about:

  • Your symptoms
  • Your bleeding pattern and any changes to this
  • Your own medical history and certain areas of your family’s
  • Any medication you are taking
  • The risks and benefits of HRT for you as an individual
  • HRT options

Blood tests are not needed to diagnose the menopause if you are over 45, but they may be suggested to exclude other causes.

In some cases, if your case is more complex you may need to be referred to a menopause specialist.

If you need more support

A decision that HRT is not right for you is rarely a straightforward no, it involves exploring the benefits for you as well the risks, to help you make an informed choice as to what you want to do. You may at this point decide HRT is not for you.

There are non-hormonal options that are available and not every woman will need or want HRT.

But if you feel you need to discuss this further your GP should be able to refer you onto a menopause specialist. There may not be a specialist clinic at your local hospital, but you can ask to be referred to your nearest one.

The British Menopause Society (BMS) website can help you to find a registered specialist in your area both on the NHS and privately, which you can use to find a clinic near you: https://thebms.org.uk/find-a-menopause-specialist/.

Everyone should feel empowered to make decisions about how they navigate their menopause journey and accessing medical help and advice is an important part of this.

For more menopause stories, advice and interviews, head to the Menopause Your Way Stories hub. To browse and shop a curated edit of menopause products, visit the Menopause Your Way page on QVC.

The content of the QVC website is for information only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on the QVC website.

We understand there’s a lot of information out there on the menopause. You can read through the NICE guidance on menopause management, as well as the NHS overview on the menopause.