duckdoc2My goal as the founder of Hormonology is to show you how your hormones impact your moods, behavior and health throughout your hormone cycle. This way, you can capitalize on your hormonal strengths and overcome hormonal challenges to make every day of your cycle better. I’m like your personal menstrual cycle Sherpa.

The reason I can do this is because I’m a longtime women’s health journalist, which means I read hormone and health studies as well as interview health experts and researchers. Then, I relay important and useful hormone information to you in ways that are easy to understand and implement into your daily life.

In addition to my health journalism experience, I’m now on the path to becoming a certified health coach.

However, I’m not a doctor. So, when I receive the many, many emails I do from women asking me about problems they’re having with menstruation, hormones or other cycle-related issues, I refer them to their healthcare provider.

Since I’ve gotten a huge increase in these types of inquiries lately, today I want to take a moment to let you know the two sure signs that reveal when you, too, should be seeking guidance from your healthcare provider, be it your gynecologist, general practitioner, nurse practitioner or naturopath:

1. See your healthcare provider any time you notice a change in your cycle–such as unusual spotting or bleeding, a dramatic change in the number of days your cycle lasts, skipped periods without pregnancy or unusual pain. A change you can notice could mean it’s a symptom of a change you can’t notice going on inside your body that needs to be investigated.

2. See your healthcare provider anytime you suspect something is wrong–for instance, if you believe your hormones are out of whack or you experience intense mood swings related to your cycle that interfere with everyday life. We often can tell when our body or brain isn’t quite right or doesn’t match up with what “normal” should be. Go with your gut and investigate.

When you go to your healthcare provider, bring as much information as you can: Write down a list of symptoms and questions you have and, if applicable to your problem, keep a daily log of your cycle or chart your cycle with a basal thermometer and/or ovulation microscope to pinpoint ovulation. The more details you can provide the better.

What you should not do if you have a cycle-related health concern:

Don’t hope the issue you’re having will magically go away. If you notice something is amiss, then dealing with it early on means you can usually catch it in its most treatable stage. Yes, it can take some gulping and hand-holding to make that call for an appointment, but it beats endlessly worrying about it or waiting till the condition worsens and gets more uncomfortable.

Don’t treat your condition using over-the-counter herbs or supplements. If you’ve read my Hormonology posts for awhile, you know full well that I am a big believer in using natural remedies over pharmaceuticals as a first line of defense when appropriate. However–and this is a big “however”–that’s only with conditions that have been verified and that are not serious, such as menstrual cramps and premenstrual moodiness.

No website (including mine) or book can tell you what’s wrong with you just by listing a few symptoms. In fact, WebMD just reported on a new study in the British Medical Journal that found online symptom checkers–including their own WebMD Symptom Checker–provide a correct diagnosis only about half the time And, some are far less accurate than that.

And, just skip right over websites and books that want you to self-diagnose based on a list of vague symptoms, such as “fatigue” and “moodiness”. Personally, I’ve found that the websites and books that encourage you to self-diagnose certain conditions (many of them supposedly hormone-related, such as “estrogen dominance” or “adrenal fatigue”) without the aid of a healthcare professional are those that are selling supplements, “programs” or more books to fix the very problem they helped you self-diagnose.

If you want to find out what’s wrong with you medically, you’ll need medical tests, such as bloodwork or a sonogram or something else that lets a healthcare provider know what’s going on under the hood.

And, for the love of all that is holy, please do not tinker with your hormones with over-the-counter hormone products. If you suspect you have a hormone disorder, using these products can either worsen the condition, prolong the problem or actually give you a problem you never had before. Hormones (including those found on store shelves) are powerful chemicals that affect you in a myriad of ways emotionally and physically. If you believe something is wrong with your body’s hormones, then ask your healthcare provider to get your hormone levels tested. That is the only true way of knowing if something’s wrong with your hormones–and, if so, what it is.

By the way, I’ve already heard back from several women I’ve recently referred to their healthcare providers–and based on their diagnoses, it’s a good thing they went. They all had treatable conditions, but they were all conditions that needed to be treated.

I hope this information helps you the next time you’re wondering if you should see your healthcare provider about a health issue.

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[Photo: Joshua Smith]