Not your mother's menopause: new ways to manage symptoms
Although menopause is a milestone event for an estimated 50 million-plus women each year, there is an increased focus on the topic during September, which is National Menopause Awareness Month. And while this topic previously was a taboo subject for many years - something women have been shy to discuss, even with their health care provider - today’s women are entering into a new generation and seeing a shift. Nowadays women are beginning to talk more about their menopausal concerns and their body changes, and they are becoming more educated on their treatment options.
These open and honest discussions can improve quality of life by providing information and treatment to the many women who suffer daily from such menopause-related symptoms as hot flashes, sleeplessness, mood swings, weight gain, vaginal pain and more.
“Thankfully, when it comes to treating these symptoms, women have more choices now than ever before,” says Margery Gass, executive director of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) and a practicing gynecologist. “Each woman is unique and requires a different plan of attack. What’s right for one person might not be right for another, so it’s important for women to discuss these available options with their clinicians to make an informed decision.”
Hormone therapy (HT) remains the most effective and commonly used approach for treating menopausal women. Several drugs are available to help relieve menopause-related symptoms. This type of treatment option includes estrogen therapy or a combination of estrogen and progestogen for women who still have their uterus. Hormone therapy comes in a variety of doses and the exact dosage and delivery mode can be tailored to each woman depending on her individual health risks and concerns.
For years, hormone therapy had been the only prescribed treatment approved for menopausal symptoms. Now, women who are looking for a non-hormonal way to beat hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause can turn to two recent FDA-approved treatment options: Osphena and Brisdelle.
Specifically, Osphena is approved to relieve painful intercourse as a result of thinning tissue and decreasing estrogen levels. Brisdelle is considered the first approved, non-hormonal treatment for hot flashes.
A third new alternative is Duavee, a combination of estrogen and a selective estrogen receptor modulator. It has been approved for moderate-to-severe hot flashes related to menopause in women who haven’t had a hysterectomy, as well as for prevention of postmenopausal osteoporosis.
In addition to prescription drugs, numerous other options are available for women seeking relief from menopause. A healthy diet and regular exercise may help with bone health, weight management and sleep issues. While some diets, such as those rich in soy and low in fats and carbs, may provide heart benefits, it is important to steer clear of food triggers that may aggravate hot flashes, such as spicy foods, alcohol or caffeine.
Kegel exercises can help strengthen pelvic floor muscles and lessen sexual discomfort as well as urinary incontinence. Over-the-counter lubricants also can be used prior to sexual intercourse to combat unwanted dryness associated with low estrogen levels. Cleanse with clean water without soap. Don’t forget to talk to your doctor about your optimal intake of nutritional supplements like vitamin D and calcium, among others. Most of these supplements have a recommended daily intake that is appropriate for most women.
Stress-relieving practices like yoga or deep-breathing exercises and massage can help control mood changes associated with menopause, and studies have also shown that acupuncture can actually lower the severity and frequency of hot flashes for some women.
If you’re suffering from menopause-related symptoms, you’re not alone. And while the various treatment options might seem overwhelming, having more choices allows women to customize their treatment options.
It’s important to talk to your clinician about what will work best for you. Take the stigma out of menopause and start communicating, not only with your clinician, but also with others who might be experiencing similar symptoms. For more information on perimenopause or menopause and beyond, or to find a NAMS Certified Menopause Practitioner near you, visit www.menopause.org.