For those women who have yet to experience menopause, some information on what you might expect.
Some of you will drench your sheets from sweat on a regular basis. Others will have difficulty controlling emotions. And then there are others who initiate divorce during the menopause years.
This hormonal change, which starts on average at age 51, also is blamed for vaginal dryness, incontinence, insomnia, and fat gain.
According to the Mayo Clinic, menopause can last up to 10 years. We now know that the mean duration of symptoms is seven to nine years, and for a third of women, hot flashes can endure for up to a decade. At the peak worst, menopause can be debilitating. Some women literally stopped their periods and don’t have any symptoms. But that is not the norm, nor what you should prepare for.
Menopause is caused by reproductive senescence, meaning that a woman’s reproductive capability has aged out. There are a range of theories as to why large mammals, like humans and whales, experience menopause. But, regardless of the reason, it marks a decrease in reproductive hormones like estrogen.
In America, an estimated 2 million women will start menopause each year. Most women will have some symptoms — and most, at least 75%, will be wetting those sheets, or at least feeling that intense heat, that is the common symptom felt during menopause.
Loss of work and changes in health translate to an economic toll for women and the health system. Menopause can mean clinical testing, more appointments, drugs and supplements, emergency department trips, and specialist visits.
With a monetary cost to health care and employers, and a monetary, physical, and emotional cost to women, how can you treat your menopause?
Ways to Control Menopause Symptoms
- Complimentary or alternative medicine
- Lifestyle changes and behavioral modifications
Picking the best treatment or treatments is a personal decision woman should discuss with their doctors. But how do the options stack up?
Hormone Treatment for Menopause
Replacing lost hormones with synthetic ones can help reverse the symptoms of menopause. Estrogen therapy is part of HRT (hormone replacement therapy) and can reduce symptoms, specifically hot flashes. HRT can reduce symptoms by 90% to 95%.
The benefits typically outweigh the risks for women who are in their first few years after menopause and under the age of 60.
But the risks aren’t necessarily small. One HRT risk is blood clots. With oral estrogens, the risk of a blood clot in the general population is about 1 in 1000, and in the people taking oral estrogen is about 2 in 1000.
Another HRT risk is cancer. A landmark study, the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), found an increased risk of cancer for women taking hormone therapy, amounting to an extra 8 to 9 women out of 10,000. But there are different types and preparations of hormone therapy and in the years since the WHI study there have been several medical advancements in hormone therapy.
While HRT has risks, it also has several benefits. Aside from reducing symptoms like mood changes and hot flashes, HRT can protect against heart disease and osteoporosis.
Estrogen, in its natural form, helps:
- Increase good cholesterol levels, and decrease the bad kind
- Keep blood vessels in shape so blood flows smoothly
- Rid the blood of so-called free radicals, which damage arteries and more.
Speak with your doctor prior to deciding on hormone replacement therapy. Your doctor can help weight the benefits and risks in your particular situation.
Alternative Medicine Treatment for Menopause
Part of the issues some have with alternative menopause treatments is the lack of good data. Studies are often small, and because the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements as it does medications, dosing can be imperfect.
Flax and soy are two compounds with some research backing them. Both have natural compounds that look a lot like estrogen.
A clinical review found that soy supplements might reduce hot flashes and vaginal dryness, but, the study authors were not particularly confident, saying the “suboptimal quality” of some of the studies required additional research. Herbal remedies may not help your symptoms, but if herbal tea and meditation can help before bedtime, then it’s worth a try.
As for marijuana and its derivatives, women who felt marijuana helped consumed a reasonable amount and did so while not driving impaired or otherwise misusing the drug. If you want to try this method, obtaining a medical marijuana card in New York will be your first step.
Lifestyle Changes for Women During Menopause
Some things like acupuncture or yoga might be helpful to reduce anxiety, which in turn, might relieve some symptoms but they are largely not backed by science and might be expensive.
Changes including losing weight and quitting smoking, both healthy choices in and of themselves, are worth the effort and could reduce severity of symptoms. Losing weight will reduce the frequency of the flashes, example. A list of treatments put together by the NIH shows a few research studies that found exercise, meditation, and yoga could all be helpful.
There is no magic pill that will reverse menopause without involving risks, but risk is no reason not to seek treatment. The doctors at AG Urgent Care can help decide which is the best route for you.