Have you ever left your doctor’s office feeling unsure of what just transpired? It’s happened to all of us - an important appointment is seemingly over in a flash as health concerns are dismissed, symptoms are deemed “common,” and fears are dismantled. You have a gut feeling that something's wrong - but your office visit “proved” otherwise. So how do you advocate for your health, especially when discussing something as personal and important as your menstrual cycle?
By taking a more active role in your health care. Here are some things you CAN do:
- Do the prep work you need to be able to drive the conversation. Prepare for your appointment by writing down the symptoms that have been impacting your quality-of-life. "Be as specific as you can," advises Dr. Nithya Gopal, a board-certified gynecologist with VIVA EVE. "If you're bleeding through your bedding, write it down. If you're changing your sanitary products every couple of hours, or are self-medicating with painkillers around the clock, write it down. The extent of your symptoms should be known by your healthcare provider." Writing things down is good because not only will it help you remember during the conversation, but you can also just hand the list to your doctor and let her read it if you’re too nervous to talk about them.
- Research online ahead of your appointment. Use the internet and its various resources to deepen your understanding of the issues that may be affecting your health. As a patient, it's in your best interest to become informed about the conditions that may be causing the symptoms you're experiencing, such as fibroids, adenomyosis, uterine polyps, and endometriosis. Look for science-supported webpages, articles, and studies. These too will help whether you ask about them or show your doctor the list of conditions you think might fit.
- Collect your own metrics. "Consider actively using a period tracker app to track and monitor your menstrual cycle," says Nurse Practitioner Maris Huffman. "Keeping track of your body's patterns is especially helpful to your doctor because those metrics allow them to easily view your past cycles and spot trends.” For example, Clue, the top free period tracker app recommended by the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology is a robust app that demystifies your menstrual cycle and allows you to track your health across 30 different categories.
- Stress to your doctor that you want to treat the illness, not the symptoms. If you believe there's more to your period symptoms, your doctor should work jointly with you to investigate the underlying cause. A missed diagnosis can lead to serious repercussions, such as in the case of actress Gabrielle Union, who found out that she had adenomyosis after suffering “eight or nine” miscarriages, as detailed in her book We’re Going to Need More Wine. Looking back, Union describes the signs as being clear. “Every doctor I saw was like let me put you on birth control,” she said. Union had sought medical attention in her twenties for her periods, which bled through overnight pads and lasted nine or ten days. “Note: if you are on birth control for anything other than birth control, to address or treat any sort of period issue you are not actually treating or addressing a period or reproductive issue. You are masking it.”
- Don't be afraid to ask questions. Once you’re in the “hot seat” at the doctor’s, remind yourself that you are there to actively explore your health and seek treatment. Participate and ask questions during your consultation. Push past the status quo (on average, doctors will interrupt patients after only 11 seconds when patients try to tell them what's wrong) and get out of the habit of listening and not speaking.
- Know when a second opinion is appropriate. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, one in 20 Americans will experience outpatient diagnostic errors. Mistakes happen, even with the host of medical qualifiers - education, experience, and training - your health care providers have. If you feel like you’re not being heard, doubt the validity of the diagnosis, or experience pushback on your attempts to be your own advocate, seek a second opinion. Good, confident doctors will not be upset with you and will recognize that a second opinion is as much about patient comfort as it is about medical judgment.
VIVA EVE is a women’s health care clinic in New York City that specializes in treating uterine fibroids and providing first-line-of-care to women suffering from undiagnosed GYN disorders. If you’re seeking a second opinion, we invite you to schedule a consultation. Our team of experts will provide you with the compassionate, specialized care you deserve.