West Cork pharmacist Caitriona O’Riordan shares how pharmacists are often the first port of call for women seeking information and support on all aspects of healthcare including menopause.
Most of our patients will already have a strong relationship with their pharmacist and feel comfortable discussing symptoms and any concerns they may have. We are delighted to see more open discussion of menopausal symptoms and treatments and welcome changes in clinical recommendations, which mean women can now seek effective treatment as soon as they need it.
I often find patients are unsure as to whether they may be entering perimenopause and just want to opportunity to bounce their symptoms off someone. As we all know the symptoms of perimenopause can vary widely from person to person and if you are not experiencing the same symptoms as your friends or colleagues you may begin to wonder what is happening to you and your body. Pharmacists are confident in discussing all symptoms with women, from anxiety and sleep disturbance to vaginal dryness and hot flushes. We all have private consultation rooms, which offer patients a relaxed environment to chat in private. Even if a patient has not raised the topic of menopause with us, we will notice if someone is presenting frequently with symptoms of thrush or urinary tract infections and we can help women work out if there may be a background reason for this such as vaginal symptoms associated with menopause.
The first step in my pharmacy is to discuss what symptoms are affecting quality of life the most and then find a solution to these. Many patients, especially in the early stages, are more interested in simple over-the-counter remedies such as Solgar Magnesium Citrate for sleep disturbance or good quality lubricants such as the ‘Yes’ range of products. We also advise on the best vitamin and mineral supplements for energy and hormone balance, a number of companies now tailor products specifically for menopause such as Menomin and Menoactive.
Of course any discussion of menopause will turn to the topic of HRT and, as medicines experts, we are fully trained on the safety and suitability of these products. I will often advise patients who are suffering from multiple or severe symptoms when the time is right to have a chat with their GP. I really believe the more informed you are the more benefit you will get from any consultation, so we are very happy to discuss what options are available before they make their appointment.
Once a patient has a prescription for hormone replacement therapy we will advise them on how best to use their medicine, for example when to change patches or where to apply gel. Almost every patient seeks reassurance that they are making the correct decision in choosing HRT, particularly as there has been such negativity surrounding this medication in previous years. Happily, I can reassure my patients with the most recent up-to-date information in relation to the safety and indeed the actual health benefits of using HRT.
The past six months have seen huge supply change issues in relation to all forms of hormone replacement therapy; luckily none of my patients needed to change the format of their therapy, as we were able to maintain a continuous supply by halving or doubling various strengths depending on availability. However, when the supply issue first came to light, I researched switching and equivalencies, so I was best informed to advise doctors who may need to switch patients and also to be able to reassure my patients that I always had a Plan B!
Your local pharmacy is a great place to begin a discussion on perimenopause and menopause; you don’t need an appointment and we’re trained and ready to chat. We are very happy to help, no matter what stage of the journey you are at, so call in anytime!
Caitriona O’Riordan, O’Riordan’s Pharmacy, Main Street, Enniskeane, 023-8822710.