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Menopause and Hormone Replacement Therapy

photo of Dr. ForsythAs women, our bodies go through phases over the course of our lives. From birth, to puberty, sometimes childbirth and breastfeeding, all the way to menopause, each phase comes with its own unique challenges. Menopause, in particular, can cause a whole host of issues for women but is often not discussed due to embarrassment or the desire to simply get on with life. But often, issues associated with menopause can cause such disruption to daily life that medical intervention is necessary.

“Menopause is defined as the time in a woman’s life when the ovaries stop producing eggs. She stops making hormones and stops having periods. It’s a normal physiological process and it doesn’t necessarily require treatment,” says Bradley Forsyth, MD. “There are very few women that don’t have some symptom. They vary in severity. Some people describe debilitating symptom, some women will just notice that they have a hot flash or night sweat from time to time.”

Symptoms can vary for different women, but there are a few main culprits: hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, mood changes and sleep pattern changes. There can also be some urinary symptoms that can cause significant issues for menopausal women.

For those experiencing debilitating symptoms of menopause, there is some hope for relief. One of them is hormone therapy. Estrogen and progesterone is given to women via pills, shots, patches or other methods depending on their needs.

“The benefits of hormone replacement therapy are you are replacing the hormones no longer being created by the body and it alleviates some of the symptoms of menopause,” Forsyth says. “It almost always helps the symptoms.”

Women who have a history of certain types of cancer or other preexisting conditions may not be able to qualify for hormone replacement therapies. Another method of treating severe menopausal symptoms is bio identical hormones. This cocktail of hormones is formulated specifically for each patient via a test performed on a saliva sample. The cocktail usually contains a combination of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.

There are also non-hormonal treatments to address menopause symptoms. These can be as simple as lowering your air conditioning, to dressing in layers and avoiding spicy foods. Some women may find relief from the effects of menopause by taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, colloquially known as antidepressants.

They are effective in reducing the hot flashes and for patients who can’t take hormones. This is usually the first place we go. Other non-hormonal treatments include holistic or herbal treatments like soy products, vitamins, acupuncture and other herbal therapies.

“These are things that are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. What you see is not what you get and that’s a problem with these medications,” says Forsyth. “That being said, the majority of women will use these for symptoms.”

There are many ways to treat menopausal symptoms. The first step is to talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Based on your medical history and specific challenges, you can work with your provider to come up with a course of treatment that works best for you.

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