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Taking Control of Your Health

Reading about a recent conference in Denmark on "patient empowerment" got the editors of HFN thinking about how important it is for women either entering or in menopause to learn more about the status of their health and how to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible.

HFN 094 TakingControl F22105392The conference focused on "health literacy, chronic disease self-management, and the role of technology. Empowerment is also about respecting patients' rights and voice," said an article in The Lancet, Europe's premier medical journal.

All of this, of course, is important at any point in our lives, but we go through so much change during perimenopause and menopause that taking control of our health becomes particularly relevant for us during this time and going forward into our later years.

Step one is always listen to your body because it's very good at sending you messages. And no one knows your body better than you. There are plenty of "silent" diseases, though, especially in the beginning. How do you know, for example, when your blood pressure is no longer in the normal range, your body's ability to manage blood sugar begins to fail, or your bones have become less dense? You may not have any symptoms at first or they may be quite subtle and easy to miss. This is why scheduling an annual physical is always smart.

All of us should know how to give ourselves monthly breast exams to detect the slightest change, the smallest lump. But did you know that a new wrinkling or puckering of the skin around your nipples could mean something serious—or it could not? It does mean that you need to see your doctor without procrastinating.

Health literacy is something we all can and should have. When you make it your business to read and listen to medical reports in the media, you'll know, for instance, that increased thirst over time may be a symptom of diabetes. When you notice that you have a harder time catching your breath after climbing the same flight of stairs you've always taken, it may be a symptom of excess weight (you know what you need to do for that!) or it could be something more serious with your heart or lungs. Time for a check-up with your doctor.

Before any appointment with your healthcare provider, you should make a list of your symptoms and try to write down when they occur. Every day? A few times a week? After eating? This will help your doctor determine what may be wrong and what the treatment might be.

If you really think something is wrong but your doctor doesn't or if he or she gives you a diagnosis that you really think is off track, it's worth it to press your physician further and ask for either a re-do of the test, a different test, or seek another opinion. Be prepared for possible resistance from your doctor, as some, but certainly not all, are not used to patients being persistent or demanding. But it's your body, it's your health, and often we really do know when something is amiss. Arrive at your appointment armed with questions. Doctors are trained experts but not perfect.

Lastly, if you have a chronic disease, be the one who takes charge of your treatment. You know if you'll be able to stick to a three-times-a-day medication or if you'd be better with once a day, if there's a choice. You know if you'll stick to a diet and exercise regimen to help bring down your blood sugar, your weight, or your blood pressure, or if you're a patient who needs medical intervention.

As the ancient Greeks said, "Know thyself." ♀

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