Menopause is a natural change in life, so “treatment” during menopause actually involves treating not menopause itself but the symptoms of menopause and related health concerns. Staying healthy during and beyond menopause is also about more than just making it through this transition—considering that today’s average woman has more than one-third of her life ahead of her after menopause, this is a great time to take action to improve and protect your health.
Managing symptoms of menopause can begin with lifestyle changes designed to improve and maintain your general health; these include:
You can also directly address some of the symptoms of menopause and related health concerns by doing the following:
There are several things you can do to manage hot flashes. Consider the following:
There has been much debate surrounding the use of menopausal hormonal therapy (MHT) to relieve some of the symptoms of menopause and to prevent bone loss around the time of menopause.
Though some women find that taking estrogen (and progesterone, among those who still have a uterus) does provide relief of symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness, there are also risks associated with MHT. Studies have suggested that major health concerns associated with use of MHT include an increased risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer and cardiovascular risks. Risk varies by type of MHT used (estrogen-plus-progestin versus estrogen alone). Talk with your doctor to determine what type of MHT might be right for you and about its risks and benefits. To minimize these risks, the U.S. Food and Drug administration (FDA) advises that if you choose to try MHT, you do so for the shortest time needed and use the lowest effective dose. Know that your symptoms may return when you stop taking the hormones.
In addition to serious medical concerns associated with MHT, some women also experience additional side effects. These include breast tenderness, spotting or a return of monthly periods, cramping, and bloating. These side effects will sometimes go away on their own or may be alleviated by changing the dose or timing of MHT.
Doctors sometimes recommend birth control pills during perimenopause. Birth control pills can help manage heavy, frequent, or unpredictable periods and can prevent pregnancy. As well, they may help relieve symptoms like hot flashes.
Phytoestrogens. Some women look to non-medical methods to manage the symptoms of menopause. One approach is to increase dietary intake of phytoestrogens, which might work in the body like a weak form of estrogen. These estrogen-like substances are found in food sources including some cereals, vegetables, legumes (soy, for example), and herbs and can also be taken as an herbal supplement. The ability of phytoestrogens to relieve symptoms of menopause, however, has not been determined, and there may be risks associated with their use. It’s important that your talk to your doctor if you’re thinking about eating more foods rich in phytoestrogens or using a supplement.
Bioidentical or “natural hormones.” Estrogen and progesterone can be made from plants such as soy or yams; these so-called natural hormones are supposed to closely resemble hormones naturally produced by the body. A doctor determines the formula for each patient, and a pharmacist puts it together in a process call compounding. There is little data about the safety or efficacy of natural hormones, as they are not regulated or approved by the FDA.
Women’s Reproductive Health: Menopause. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/WomensRH/Menopause.htm. Accessed June, 2010.
Age Page/Menopause. The National Institute on Aging Web site. http://www.nia.nih.gov/HealthInformation/Publications/menopause.htm. Accessed June, 2010.
Menopause. The National Institutes of Health Web site. http://health.nih.gov/topic/Menopause. Accessed June, 2010.