If you feel like you’re dealing with menopause symptoms in the dark, you’re not alone. Half of all women report experiencing menopausal symptoms for at least four months before having them assessed by a healthcare provider—and 20% dealt with unmanaged symptoms for a full year, as reported in Bonafide’s recent State of Menopause survey of more than 1,000 U.S. women aged 40 to 65.
A certified menopause practitioner, or CMP, can help. These medical specialists have dedicated their practice to helping women manage—and overcome—symptoms like vaginal dryness, hot flashes, mood swings, painful intercourse, low libido, and more.
“If you want the best, most up-to-date evidence on menopause symptoms and treatment, you have to go to a CMP,” says Rebecca Levy-Gantt, an OB/GYN and CMP who’s been focused on treating women over 40 for more than a decade. Here, Dr. Levy-Gantt tells us more about what these experts do, how their approach to treating menopause symptoms is different, and who can benefit from seeing one.
What is a Certified Menopause Practitioner?
Certified menopause practitioners are medical professionals, such as gynecologists or nurse practitioners, who have undergone additional education and training related to the menopausal transition and caring for women having various menopausal symptoms, explains Dr. Levy-Gantt. Certification is performed through the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), a specialty medical society that conducts research and has evidence-based recommendations about menopause, she continues.
How Are CMPs Different Than Gynecologists?
While all general OB/GYNs and gynecologists have received some education about menopause, CMPs have undergone additional training and testing to be certified specialists, says Dr. Levy-Gantt.
“There are so many specialties within obstetrics and gynecology, not every practitioner will be up to date on the latest research and recommendations specifically for menopause,” she says. “In the last 20 years, menopause treatment has changed drastically, and CMPs are up to date on what’s acceptable and safe.”
That added knowledge and training allows CMPs to get to the heart of what’s driving a woman’s menopause symptoms. “We spend more time on the details that other doctors only graze,” Dr. Levy-Gantt says. “I often hear from patients ‘This is the first time anyone has ever asked me about this.’
How Do CMPs Help Women Manage Menopause-related Symptoms?
CMPs have the knowledge and expertise to help women make evidence-based decisions on the best treatments for them. And they’re not afraid to delve deep when it comes to talking about a woman’s symptoms, in order to fully understand what’s going on, Dr. Levy-Gantt says. “A conversation about menopause has to include questions about dryness, painful intercourse, low libido, and relationship issues,” she explains. “Most practitioners avoid going there because it opens a huge bag of worms.”
Conversations about treatment look closely at hormone replacement therapy. “When women have symptoms that are clearly related to low estrogen, most of the time, if they’ve already seen someone else, the first-line therapy hasn’t been hormone therapy,” Dr. Levy-Gantt says.
But for women who are candidates, evidence shows that hormone therapy can be a good option for relieving menopausal symptoms, explains Dr. Levy-Gantt. “Women have been told that they can’t take hormones because their aunt had breast cancer, for instance. It takes an educated, in-depth discussion to explain what the evidence now shows.” In fact, Dr. Levy-Gantt estimates that 90% of her patients come in with questions – and fears – about taking hormones.
That said, CMPs don’t just manage symptoms with hormone therapy. “If a patient is still resistant, I have a list of alternatives at my fingertips,” Dr. Levy-Gantt says. Some blood pressure medications can help with hot flashes, for instance, while sometimes dietary supplements can also provide relief.
Should Every Woman with Menopausal Symptoms See a CMP?
If a woman feels like her symptoms aren’t adequately being addressed by her primary care provider or gynecologist, she should seek out a CMP, says Dr. Levy-Gantt. “If you feel generally well and feel like your major issues are being addressed by your current provider, you don’t have to find a CMP,” she explains. “But if you feel like there’s something more that you need, a CMP can be the one to help.”
How Would a Visit with a CMP Compare to a Visit with a Standard Gynecologist or General Practitioner?
Expect it to be longer and more in-depth, so your CMP can get a full understanding of your symptoms and history, Dr. Levy-Gantt says. “I have symptom charts and questionnaires on sexuality, pain, and your relationship with your partner. We’ll focus on your periods and your reproductive history. I categorize everything,” she explains. “At the end, the goal is to have a plan for each symptom a patient is experiencing.”
Getting the most from a visit calls for some prep work on the part of the patient, says Dr. Levy-Gantt. “You should be able to come in with a history of what has happened throughout the changes in your life. It can be on paper or in your head,” she says. “Having that information gives me a huge advantage in looking at how things have gone for you, so I can start formulating a plan right off the bat.”
Where Can Women Find a Certified Menopause Practitioner Near Them?
Dr. Levy-Gantt recommends using North American Menopause Society’s CMP directory. The database contains healthcare providers including MDs, DOs, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and other medical professionals who’ve earned the NAMS Certified Medical Practitioner credential.
Is There Anything Else Women Should Know About Seeing a CMP?
When going in for your visit “arm yourself with the questions you really want to ask to start feeling better,” Dr. Levy-Gantt advises. “Especially older women, they’ve been way too accepting of the current standards. They think there’s nothing they can do or take, and that menopause is just an automatic decline.” But it’s not. “My goal is to make those years better for you,” Dr. Levy-Gantt says.