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Menopause guide helps women sort out treatments

May 1st, 2012
Staff Writer

Menopause can be difficult for some women Menopause can be difficult for some women due to hot flashes, disrupted sleep, vaginal dryness, mood swings and other symptoms. Since studies came out about a decade ago clarifying the limitations of hormone replacement therapy, many women have gone untreated or believe there is little they can do for relief. According to one poll, about seven out of 10 women with symptoms are not treated.

There are ways to ease menopausal symptoms, however, and that’s the goal of a new tool released Tuesday by The Endocrine Society. The guide is an online interactive program to help women understand which treatments—both hormonal and non-hormonal—are available for various symptoms and the pros and cons of each treatment.

Called the Menopause Map, the guide is based on scientific research and is intended to help women fine-tune their conversations with their doctors. The tool is important, experts noted, because recent research has clarified the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy for treating menopausal symptoms. New studies, for example, have shown certain groups of women may benefit from hormone therapy while others should avoid it if possible.

The initial studies on hormone therapy, which were published in 2002, left women “ with the false impression that hormone therapy isn't a safe option [and] far too many women have suffered in silence thinking their options for symptom relief were limited or non-existent," said Dr. Cynthia Stuenkel, a member of The Endocrine Society and an endocrinologist specializing in menopause at the University of California, San Diego. "We know that for some women, hormonal therapy provides the only relief for severe menopausal symptoms. Women deserve some clear answers and helpful tools to engage their doctors in meaningful conversations about the multiple choices available to improve their menopausal symptoms."

The "Menopause Map" also has links to questionnaires that help assess current risk for breast cancer, heart disease and stroke. The tool weighs hormonal and non-hormonal therapies against the risks based on individual symptoms and medical history. While not designed to be a self-diagnostic tool, women are encouraged to print out the results of the tool and discuss it with their doctor.

The Endocrine Society also released a list of what it calls important facts to know about hormone therapy:

  • Women 60 years and older should not use menopausal hormone therapy.
  • Women 50 to 59 years or younger, with no family or personal history of breast cancer, no history of heart disease or stroke and with moderate to severe menopausal symptoms are the best candidates for hormone therapy.
  • If considering hormone therapy, women should talk with their health care provider to determine a plan that is right for them
  • Lifestyle approach also helps alleviate symptoms and benefit long-term health.
  • For those who decide on hormone therapy, this is an ongoing process and might require a period of trial and error to find the right fit for each individual woman.
  • For those who decide on non-hormonal options, there are several proven therapies available that may help with symptoms. It is important women share information about all medications they are using, including over-the-counter drugs and nutritional supplements, to make sure the choice of therapy doesn't interact with other medications.