Menopause marks a significant time of change for women. It is the natural, biological process of menstrual cycles ending. It usually occurs in women aged in their 40s or 50s and is officially diagnosed when a full year passes without a menstrual period.
Though it is natural, many of the symptoms of menopause and the time period leading up to menopause, also called perimenopause, can be disruptive to your life. Fortunately, there are treatment options and lifestyle changes you can make, including hormone therapy, to improve the symptoms of menopause.
Common physical symptoms of menopause and perimenopause can include hot flashes and night sweats, irregular periods, sleep problems or insomnia, slowed metabolism that can lead to weight gain, vaginal dryness, chills, dry skin and thinning hair, and loss of breast fullness. Emotional stress, mood swings, depression, anxiety, difficulty with memory and general concentration, and a reduced libido are also common symptoms.
Additional symptoms may include:
- Reduced bone and/or muscle mass
- Increased urination and urinary tract infections
- Headaches and/or sore joints
- Sore or tender breasts
- Heart racing
Specific symptoms and their severity will fluctuate on an individual basis. Every woman is different, and different bodies react in different ways. However, some menstrual period irregularity will most likely be very common leading up to menopause. Periods may skip a month or several months before returning or happen on shorter cycles. Be sure to regularly consult with your doctor to ensure your
What is Hormone Replacement Therapy?
There are treatment options for those women seeking relief from menopause symptoms. One such option may be hormone replacement therapy. Estrogen levels fall during menopause, which is the major cause for most uncomfortable, distressing menopausal symptoms. Therefore treating and replacing those hormones is a massively effective treatment option.
Estrogen can be administered in a variety of ways. The most common form of estrogen therapy to treat menopause is the estrogen pill. Usually it’s taken daily without food, though there are some forms of the pill that have more complicated dosing schedules. The estrogen pill introduces the body to the same estrogen that the ovary makes prior to menopause.
Along with the pill, the estrogen patch is the other most common form of treatment. Patches are placed directly on the skin, usually on the abdomen. Dosing varies, but patches can usually be worn for a few days to upwards of a week. Both the pill and the patch are produced by a variety of different companies, consult with your doctor to help find the right brand and form for you.
Other Treatment Options
There are other ways to administer estrogen into the body, and another treatment option consists of topical estrogen medications. Similar to the patches, topical estrogen is absorbed directly into the body through the skin. It can come in the form of gels, cream, and sprays. Again, dosing will depend on the type, but they’re all usually used daily. Where the dosing is applied also depends on the type of medication. Some are applied on the legs, while others between the wrists and shoulders.
For those women dealing with menopause symptoms that are more specific to vaginal distress like dryness, burning or pain, and itchiness, vaginal estrogen is a viable treatment option. Tablets, cream, and a vaginal suppository ring are common forms. Dosage again varies, talk with your doctor about the specifics of each and if they may be right for you.
Should You Try Hormone Therapy?
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may not need to pursue hormone therapy during menopause. Particularly women who are over the age of 45 and generally aren’t bothered by menopause symptoms. With the help and guidance of your doctor, you can decide of hormone replacement therapy is right for you.
Otherwise healthy women who experience moderate to severe hot flashes, stopped having periods or lost normal ovary function before the age of 40, and/or have lost significant bone mass are strong candidates for hormone replacement therapy. Especially if other treatments have been intolerable or ineffective.
Potential Side Effects
- Vaginal bleeding
- Mood changes
- Tender or swollen breasts
You should call your doctor immediately to adjust your treatment plan if you experience any of these side effects.
Women who have conditions like cancer (especially breast or uterine), stroke, blood clots, heart or liver disease (and heart attacks), or known or suspected pregnancy should avoid hormone replacement therapy. Also, there is a greater risk for unwanted side effects or conditions for women who begin hormone therapy after the age of 60 or more than 10-20 years after menopause started.
Inversely, women who experience early menopause (usually within age years of 40s, but sometimes as early as 30s) are at a higher risk of developing serious conditions. Especially if they do not begin hormone replacement therapy until age 45 or have had their ovaries removed. These women are at risk of developing osteoporosis, anxiety and/or depression, heart disease, parkinsonism, and a potential earlier death.
Most of the major risk factors are very specific cases. Even still, many women see the potential upsides as far outweighing any risk factors. However it’s very important to consult closely with your doctor and take into account key factors like age, general health, and family history when approaching treatment options.
Additionally, there are a few strategies to generally minimize risk during treatment. First, finding the best treatment delivery method and product play a major role. Figuring out which delivery method will work best for you will depend a lot on your specific symptoms. Taking care to minimize the amount of medication you take can also significantly reduce any risk factors. Managing hormone levels is a delicate balance, and starting small can make a world of difference in early results.
Finally, leading a healthy lifestyle will always be a factor in how your body responds to hormone replacement therapy. Eat a clean, balanced diet with regular exercise. Avoid smoking and even alcohol. Take care to manage stress, weight, and any other pre-existing health conditions.
And finally, know that you’re not alone in figuring out what the best treatment plan for your body is! Contacting your OB/GYN and scheduling a consultation when you suspect you’re going through menopause is the first step. You’ll have a better idea of how to evaluate your symptoms, their severity, and if hormone replacement therapy is right for you.
Your Florida Woman Care of Jacksonville OB/GYN will assess you and help you come up with a plan to manage your menopause symptoms so you can get back to living your life.