Menopause medical therapy

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1] Rahmah Al-Edresi, M.D.[2]


While perimenopause is a natural stage of life when the symptoms are severe, this may be alleviated through medical treatments that include Hormone therapy(HT), non-hormonal therapy, and complementary or alternative therapies.Hormonal therapy (HT) provides the best relief, but hormone therapy should only be used for the shortest duration of time and at its lowest effective dose, as it increases the relative risk of uterine cancer ,ovarian cancer, breast cancer, thromboembolism, and coronary heart disease, especially in women who start HT after menopause. Some other drugs afford limited relief from hot flashes. A woman and her doctor should carefully review her symptoms and relative risk before determining whether the benefits of HT or other therapies outweigh the risks.

Medical therapy

  • Hormonal replacement therapy(HRT)

Hormone therapy used to treat vasomotor symptoms, osteoporosis, prevent genitourinary atrophy and sleep disturbances. Hormone therapy (HT) remains an effective treatment for osteoporosis. In HT, estrogens, progesterone or other hormones are administered to compensate for the body's own insufficiency to produce them. And "should only be used for the shortest duration of time and at its lowest effective dose, It can be given in various forms (i.e., tablets, creams, patches), in different modalities (i.e., continuous, versus, cyclic)."[1]There are several types of therapies such as combined oral contraceptives, systemic estrogen, estrogen-bazedoxifene, estrogen-progestin, progestin alone, and conjugated equine estrogens (Premarin) contain estrogen molecules conjugated to hydrophilic side groups (e.g. sulfate) and are produced from Equidae-animals (horses). The use of estrogen alone should be avoided in women with having a uterus, it is may cause of uterine hyperplasia and uterine cancer, so the use of combination estrogen-progestin therapy is recommended for women with having a uterus. Hormone therapy is contraindicated in women with a positive history of breast cancer, endometrial cancer, deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, liver disease, dysfunction uterine bleeding, and coronary heart disease due to an increased risk of developing cancer after 3 to 7 years of using hormone therapy. The use of localized estrogen therapy (vaginal rings, creams, or tablets), it has been shown to enhance blood flow and reverse vaginal atrophy and carries a small risk of venous thromboembolism.

Adverse effects

Women had been advised for many years that hormone therapy after menopause might reduce their risk of heart disease and prevent various aspects of aging. However, a large, randomized, controlled trial (the Women's Health Initiative) found that women undergoing HT with conjugated equine estrogens (Premarin), whether or not used in combination with a progestin (Premarin plus Provera), had a slightly increased risk of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer's disease.

After these results were reported in 2002, the number of prescriptions written for Premarin in the United States dropped almost in half, as many women discontinued HT altogether. The sharp drop in prescriptions for Premarin and PremPro following the mid-2002 announcement of their dangers was followed by large and successively greater drops in new breast cancer diagnoses at six months, one year, and 18 months after that announcement, for a cumulative 15% drop by the end of 2003. And the studies still continue to determine if the drop is related to the reduced use of HRT.

Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators (SERMs)

Selective estrogen receptor modulators(SERMs), such as raloxifene, bazedoxifene, and ospemifene have the ability to modulate estrogen action, without stimulating endometrial hyperplasia or increased risk of cancer. SERMs have the same outcome as hormone therapy in the treatment of osteoporosis. Raloxifene acts as an estrogen agonist (pro-estrogen) on bone and lipids, and like an estrogen antagonist (anti-estrogen) on uterus and breast. Thus, it is effective in preventing/treating mild osteoporosis and decreasing serum LDL, and vasomotor symptoms, like hot flashes. Ospemifene is a newer drug of SERM, which is effective in treating urogenital symptoms.[2]

Other forms of hormone therapy

Due to the controversy about Premarin-based hormone therapy, a number of doctors are now moving patients who request hormone therapy to help them through perimenopause, to bioidentical hormone products such as Estrace, a form of the precursor to estrogen in the human body known as estradiol, which have produced fewer side effects than conjugated equine estrogens[3].

However, all hormone replacement therapies probably do carry some health risks, including high blood pressure, blood clots, and increased risks of breast and uterine cancers. Women who have had a hysterectomy seem to tolerate estrogen-only therapy better than mixed-hormone therapy, and reduce the breast cancer risk brought on by progestin supplementation.

  • Non Hormonal therapy

Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors(SNRIs), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), clonidine, gabapentin. SSRIs and SNRIs such as paroxetine (Paxil), Fluoxetine hydrochloride (Prozac), and Venlafaxine hydrochloride (Effexor) are antidepressants that treat vasomotor symptoms, such as hot flashes, improving sleep, mood, and quality of life. These treatments can be used for short durations (a few months) for menopause symptoms. paroxetine (Paxil), in particular, is the only FDA-approved drug for this indication, and symptoms diminish within a week of initiating treatment. There is a theoretical reason why SSRI antidepressants might help with memory problems-- they increase circulating levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain and restore hippocampal function. Prozac has been repackaged as Sarafem and is approved and prescribed for premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a mood disorder often exacerbated during perimenopause and early menopause. PMDD has been found by PET scans to be accompanied by a sharp drop in serotonin in the brain and to respond quickly and powerfully to SSRIs. While neither is FDA-approved for the treatment of vasomotor symptoms, both gabapentin and clonidine have been shown to reduce hot flashes in menopausal women. Gabapentin(Neurontin) is an anti-seizure medication, reduces hot flashes by up to 2 hot flashes per day. Clonidine(Catapres) is blood pressure medicine, this drug may merit special consideration by women suffering both from high blood pressure and hot flashes and most effective in mild hot flashes, as it is less effective than SSRIs/SNRIs and gabapentin.[4]

  • Complementary and alternative therapies

It should be noted that medical non-hormone treatments provide less than complete relief, and each has side effects.

In the area of complementary and alternative therapies, acupuncture treatment is promising. There are some studies indicating positive effects, especially on hot flashes but also others showing no positive effects of acupuncture regarding menopause.

There are claims that soy isoflavones are beneficial concerning menopause. However, a study indicated that soy isoflavones did not improve or appreciably affect cognitive functioning in postmenopausal women.

Other remedies that have proven no better than a placebo at treating hot flashes and other menopause symptoms include red clover isoflavone extracts and black cohosh. Black cohosh has potentially serious side effects such as the stimulation of breast cancer, therefore prolonged administration is not recommended in any case.

  • Other therapies

Individual counseling or support groups may be helpful to handle sad, depressed, or confusing feelings women may be having as their bodies change. Vaginal moisturizers such as Vagisil or Replens can help women with thinning vaginal tissue or dryness. Lubricants, such as K-Y Jelly or Astroglide, can help with lubrication difficulties that may be present during intercourse. Moisturizers and lubricants are different products for different types of issues. Some women feel dry apart from sex and they may do better with moisturizers all the time. Those who just need lubricants are fine just using the lubrication products during intercourse. Low-dose vaginal estrogen is generally a safe way to take estrogen to solve vaginal thinning and dryness problems while only minimally increasing the levels of estrogen in the blood.

Obvious measures, such as drinking cold liquids and removing excess clothing layers when hot flashes strike, and avoiding hot flash triggers such as spicy foods, may supplement or supplant the use of medications for some women.


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