How to talk to your GP about your period problems
To paraphrase a well-loved Wet Wet Wet song, menstruation taboos are all around us.
From the over 5000(!) slang terms for periods, to menstrual product adverts featuring way too many white pairs of shorts, there’s no doubt that we’re taught from a very young age to keep “that sort of thing” hush-hush.
But what happens when we actually need to talk about it?
A culmination of these period taboos, negative past experiences and bleak anecdotes from friends mean that too many of us don’t feel comfortable speaking to our GPs about our periods.
If the idea of chatting with your doctor about a menstruation concern sends shivers down your spine, you’re not alone. But knowing when to give them a visit - and how to navigate it more effectively when you do - can lead to a much more positive experience all around.
“When should I see my doctor about a period problem?”
The short answer is: Any time you feel worried!
For example, lots of people have recently had concerns about period problems after the COVID vaccine. It turns out that, “After vaccination, lots of chemical signals which have the potential to affect immune cells are circulating round the body. This could cause the womb lining to shed, and lead to spotting or earlier periods” (Dr Victoria Male, a reproductive immunologist at Imperial College London). So it’s nothing to worry about!
However, seeing your doctor for irregular periods is really valuable, just to make sure that everything is working as expected. And to stop you from worrying!
If you’re unsure of when to see a doctor for period pain, when to see a doctor for irregular periods or anything in between, here are some common reasons to get booked in...
- There’s a change in the frequency of your period
- You experience spotting (bleeding between periods)
- You have particularly heavy periods and need to change your products more than once every four hours
- You experience period pain that stops you being able to daily tasks
- Your period has stopped for more than 3 months
Six tips for talking to your GP about your period (and getting the help you deserve!)
So. You now know when you need to talk to your doctor. But actually doing it is easier said than done, right?
Let’s dive into the six tips to make the experience as stress-free and valuable as possible.
Tip 1: Get some menstruation education
Don’t worry. We’re not going to tell you that you need to re-live your Year 6 sex education lessons.
This time, the power is in your hands!
It’s useful to know your stuff when it comes to the menstrual cycle (and your body in general, for that matter…) so that you’re better able to advocate for yourself in a medical setting.
There’s a whole host of brilliant resources out there. Our Fempowered Bookclub is a great place to start, for riveting reads that are as educational as they are compelling. Plus, we love podcasts like PERIOD Podcast by Kate Clancy and Period Power by Maisie Hill. Both open up those all-important conversations that will teach you things about your body you didn’t even know that you needed to know!
As Jen Lehr notes for the brilliant Modern Fertility website (another great resource), “Arming yourself with the knowledge of what to look out for in terms of your period can help you effectively seek medical advice right away since you’ll know which questions to ask.”
Tip 2: Know what to expect when talking to your doctor about your period
If you’re afraid to talk to your GP about a heavy period, pain or anything in between, it can be helpful to know what to expect. That way, you can have your answers at the ready and calm those pre-appointment nerves.
Harvard Health Publishing has created a brilliant list of things to discuss with your GP if you’re experiencing any kind of issue with your period. You can expect your doctor to cover any of these topics. And if they don’t, you may want to raise them!
Tip 3: Remember that you matter
Too many of us push our period problems aside as unimportant or have our worries dismissed. That’s why it’s so crucial to remember that you and your body matter. You deserve healthcare that serves your needs.
Don’t be afraid to see multiple doctors if you feel your needs aren’t met or to see a specialist if it could help you. Plus, try not to get disheartened if your diagnosis takes time.
If you’re wondering which doctor to consult for period problems, it’s often a gynecologist that will be best suited, whether referred via a GP or found privately.
Tip 4: It’s OK to be “pushy”
According to Gabrielle Jackson, author of Pain and Prejudice, “Women wait longer for pain medication than men, wait longer to be diagnosed with cancer, [and] are more likely to have their physical symptoms ascribed to mental health issues.”
It’s clear that those assigned female at birth are ignored all too often within medicine. Talking about her experience of getting a PCOS diagnosis, 23-year-old Sidonie said that her doctors “treated it like it was a very unimportant thing to them”, a sentiment that a lot of us are likely familiar with.
That’s why it’s more than OK to push. Push for test results. Push for clear next steps before leaving your doctor's office. Push not to be put on the pill if you don’t want to be!
Tip 5: Get tracking
You know us, we’re huge advocates for period tracking!
If nothing else, keeping a close eye on your period, when it starts, when it ends and what your symptoms are will allow you to have a more effective conversation with your GP.
Tip 6: Open up the conversation, outside of a medical setting
We also recommend considering whether external support alongside your GP could help you. Perhaps a menstrual coach or working with a homeopath could give you the advice that you need? Unfortunately, these services are not publicly funded and are therefore only accessible to those that can financially afford them.
However, even speaking to a trusted friend or family member for emotional support can help you to feel less isolated.
Have you ever had a negative experience of talking to your GP about your period? Or a positive one (we hope so)? We’d love to hear from you, to get this super important conversation going. Simply drop us a message on Instagram @wearefempowered and let’s chat.