Each day, an estimated 6,000 women reach menopause—the time in a woman’s life when the ovaries stop producing eggs and menstrual periods stop. Most women experience menopause-related symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and vaginal dryness. For some, these symptoms can be annoying and uncomfortable, but for others, menopausal changes severely affect quality of life, making it hard to focus on much else.
If you are suffering from menopausal symptoms, talk to your doctor. He or she can review healthy lifestyle tips that may help ease symptoms and lower disease risk. Try to consume a healthy, calcium-rich diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and grains. Get regular exercise to improve circulation, increase muscle strength and flexibility, and fight the mid-section weight gain that can increase your heart disease risk. Stop smoking and limit your alcohol intake.
Hormone therapy (HT) replaces the hor-mones no longer made by the ovaries with synthetic hormones. HT is an effective option for treating hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause. Estrogen-only and combined estrogen and progestin HT have been associated with an increased risk of blood clot and stroke. Combined HT has also been linked to an increased risk of heart attack and breast cancer. Some women should not take HT, including those who have had some types of abnormal bleeding, blood clots, heart attack, or stroke; most women with an estrogen-dependent cancer; and women with liver disease or dysfunction. Ask your doctor if HT is right for you. ACOG recommends that HT be taken in the lowest dose necessary to relieve symptoms for as short a time as possible.
Some women try to treat their symptoms with so-called “bio-identical” hormones, plant-derived hormones that are hand-mixed by a pharmacist according to a doctor’s prescription. You may have heard about bioidenticals recently amidst a flurry of celebrity endorsements and claims from pharmacists who make them.
The manufacturers of certain “bioidentical” hormones have touted their formulas as superior to hormone therapies approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, claiming that their products offer relief from menopausal symptoms as well as prevention or treatment for serious diseases. The FDA has stated that the pharmacies’ claims of safety and effectiveness are false, misleading, and a violation of federal law. Manufacturers and proponents have also suggested that bioidenticals provide a more tailored form of therapy because a woman’s individual prescription is based on the results of saliva tests that measure the level of hormones in her body. But studies show that saliva testing does not accurately measure a woman’s hormone levels, which change depending on her diet, the time of day, the specific hormone being tested, and other variables.
(Douglas H. Kirkpatrick, MD is President of The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.)
For more information about menopause, visit www.acog.org. ♀