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The Fear of Finding Out

By Elisa Cotarelli | Team MM

Ignorance is bliss.

Especially when it comes to things like finding out that the slice of chocolate cake you ate last night had 800 calories in it; sometimes it’s nicer not to know. But when it comes to your health, ignorance is far from bliss. Yet, so many people are reluctant to go to the GP, for fear of finding out the cause of their symptoms.

The better the communication between GPs and patients, the more willing patients  will be to book an appointment.

Professor Grey, part of the Fear of Finding Out campaign which targets this ever-present fear in society, spoke to BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours about the subject. While he considers how people might be scared of unpleasant treatment and might irrationally believe any medical condition is fatalistic, he emphasises the need to revolutionise the way GPs reach out to the public. He suggests, for example, that GPs should reach out to patients who’ve made an appointment, asking about their symptoms in a checklist form in advance. That way, when patients come in, GPs have already had the opportunity to review the patient’s data, alleviating any pressure on the patient to quickly explain what they’re experiencing in a short, 10-minute appointment. The better the communication between GPs and patients, the more willing patients  will be to book an appointment. The process of booking an appointment and getting in contact with a GP can be hard enough, let alone the psychological stresses of feeling unwell.

Because menopausal symptoms are varied and can be indicative of a variety of different conditions, it can be hard to link your symptoms to the menopause. You might confuse your symptoms for signs of cancer or mental illness, which is understandably a terrifying diagnosis. Or, you might be reluctant to find out you’re menopausal, which is seen by many as a death sentence for beauty and youth (which of course, it’ not). If you’re delaying your visit to your GP, here’s a few key tips to remember:

1. The sooner you know, the less you’ll suffer.

Typically, whatever your condition, the earlier you get diagnosed, the easier you’ll be to treat, and the faster you’ll feel better. In all likelihood, your condition is treatable and not fatal – even cancer is now considered by the medical community as a long-term condition like arthritis, rather than a death sentence, according to Professor Grey. It can be incredibly scary, but the sooner you know, the better.

2. As difficult as it might be to accept, the menopause is inevitable.

Rather than seeing this idea as daunting, try and see it as liberating. You will eventually go through the menopause, as will every woman around you. It’s beyond normal. It shouldn’t be something we fear, rather it should be something that we understand and embrace simply as part of life.

3. Be informed.

Before seeing your GP, it’s a good idea to consider your symptoms thoroughly, listen to your body and your mind, and try to identify some causes for your symptoms. Now, this does not mean going down the dark rabbit hole of the Internet and self-diagnosing yourself with every illness in the book. But this does mean recognising any changes in your lifestyle, your routine and your health so that you can have a fruitful, informed, and open conversation with your GP when you do see them. Speak to the people around you, including your family (who might be aware of a family medical history that they might have yet to share) and try to understand what you could be going through. This is especially important for the menopause, because as of now, many GPs don’t consider menopause as a cause of symptoms right away. When you bring up the menopause with your GP, be bold and be firm. It’s your body and only you know how you are feeling. Remember, although the menopause is a natural part of life, you don’t have to suffer with the symptoms. To check your symptoms, you can use Dr Louise Newson’s (the Menopause Doctor) Symptom Checklist, found here.

For many women, it can be a source of immense relief to finally understand the cause of their symptoms. But for some, the fear of the menopause or other conditions is delaying that discovery. If you’d like to know more about Professor Grey’s Fear of Finding Out campaign, you can listen to him here on BBC Radio 4, or take his “Crush Your FOFO” quiz here.