Hormone Therapy for Menopause Reviewed

According to a new review of the role of perimenopausal hormone therapy published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, women must be informed of the potential benefits and risks of all treatment options for menopausal symptoms and concerns and should receive individualized care. Here’s an update from MedPage. It’s long, but very helpful:

“With the first publication of the results of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) trial in 2002, the use of HT [hormone therapy] declined dramatically,” write Jan L. Shifren, MD, and Isaac Schiff, MD, from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

“Major health concerns of menopausal women include vasomotor symptoms, urogenital atrophy, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, cognition, and mood. … Given recent findings, specifically regarding the effect of the timing of HT initiation on coronary heart disease [CHD] risk, it seems appropriate to reassess the clinician’s approach to menopause in the wake of the recent reanalysis of the WHI.”

Many therapeutic options are currently available for management of quality of life and health concerns in menopausal women.

Treatment of vasomotor hot flushes and associated symptoms is the main indication for hormone therapy, which is still the most effective treatment of these symptoms and is currently the only US Food and Drug Administration–approved option.

For healthy women with troublesome vasomotor symptoms who begin hormone therapy at the time of menopause, the benefits of hormone therapy generally outweigh the risks.

However, hormone therapy is associated with a heightened risk for coronary heart disease. But, based on recent analyses, this higher risk is attributable primarily to older women and to those who reached menopause several years previously.

Hormone therapy should not be used to prevent heart disease, based on these analyses. However, this evidence does offer reassurance that hormone therapy can be used safely in otherwise healthy women at the menopausal transition to manage hot flushes and night sweats.

Although hormone therapy may help prevent and treat osteoporosis, it is seldom used solely for this indication alone, particularly if other effective options are well tolerated.

Short-term treatment with hormone therapy is preferred to long-term treatment, in part because of the increased risk for breast cancer associated with extended use. Also, the lowest effective estrogen dose should be given for the shortest duration required because risks for hormone therapy increase with advancing age, time since menopause, and duration of use.

Low-dose, local estrogen therapy is recommended vs systemic hormone therapy when only vaginal symptoms are present.

Alternatives to hormone therapy should be recommended for women with or at increased risk for disorders that are contraindications to hormone therapy use. These include breast or endometrial cancer, cardiovascular disease, thromboembolic disorders, and active hepatic or gallbladder disease.

In addition to estrogen therapy, progestin alone, and combination estrogen-progestin therapy, there are several nonhormonal options for the treatment of vasomotor symptoms:

  • Lifestyle interventions include reducing body temperature,
  • maintaining a healthy weight,
  • stopping smoking,
  • practicing relaxation response techniques, and
  • receiving acupuncture.

Although efficacy greater than placebo is unproven, nonprescription medications that are sometimes used for treatment of vasomotor symptoms include isoflavone supplements, soy products, black cohosh, and vitamin E. (You can read more about these in a previous post of mine.)

There are several nonhormonal prescription medications sometimes used off-label for treatment of vasomotor symptoms, but they are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for this purpose. These drugs, and their accompanying potential adverse effects, include the following:

  • Clonidine, 0.1-mg weekly transdermal patch, with potential adverse effects including dry mouth, insomnia, and drowsiness.
  • Paroxetine (10 – 20 mg/day, controlled release 12.5 – 25 mg/day), which may cause headache, nausea, insomnia, drowsiness, or sexual dysfunction.
  • Venlafaxine (extended release 37.5 – 75 mg/day), which is associated with dry mouth, nausea, constipation, and sleeplessness.
  • Gabapentin (300 mg/day to 300 mg 3 times daily), with possible adverse effects of somnolence, fatigue, dizziness, rash, palpitations, and peripheral edema.

“Women must be informed of the potential benefits and risks of all therapeutic options, and care should be individualized, based on a woman’s medical history, needs, and preferences,” the review authors write.

“For women experiencing an early menopause, especially before the age of 45 years, the benefits of using HT until the average age of natural menopause likely will significantly outweigh risks.

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1 Response to Hormone Therapy for Menopause Reviewed

  1. Alison says:

    Interested to of the off-label suggested treatments for menopause. Nearly all of them have a side-effect not listed: weight gain. This is in direct opposition to the advice that menopausal women should maintain a healthy weight. I find the amount of information in the press relating to women of a certain age needing to lose the middle aged spread absolutely frustrating. Less food and more exercise is a blindingly obvious equation to TRY to lose the spare tyre, but what happens if these good guidelines are adhered to and the spare tyre still does not budge? In my experience the medical profession have no help and no sympathy and, indeed, no answers when their glib “healthy lifestyle” advice does not work on their patients. “Your just unlucky” or “I really don’t know” are the comments I have had. Oh, by the way, I run 3 miles 3 x a week, go to the gym to do weights/treadmill/cross trainer etc twice a week, do a Zumba class once a week, walk 2 miles at least a day, housework, gardening etc etc. I also eat limited carbs, do not drink alcohol or much dairy and my weekly “treat” may be a muffin and skinny cappuccino whilst out shopping or a Solero ice lolly if the weather is hot. I don’t pig out on take-aways, drink, pastries, biscuits, etc etc. And yes, I still have a tummy, my hips and thighs are large and I have gone up a dress size in three years. I have taken no horomone therapy purely in fear of it increasing weight and am now a year over the menopause at 49. My sister was prescribe prozac and hrt and put on a stone and a half in weight. Funnily her GP is now suggesting she loses the spare tyre. Get real medics, it really ISN’T that easy!!!!

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