Menopause Symptoms Return When Hormones Stop
More Than Half in Study Had Recurrence of Hot Flashes, Night Sweats
The findings came as a surprise to researcher Judith K. Ockene, PhD, because most of the WHI participants were well past the age of menopause when they were taken off hormone therapy.
The average age of the WHI participants when the trial was stopped was 69, and the average time on hormone therapy was 5.7 years.
"The common belief has been that menopause symptoms last for just a few years, but in this study women were older and on hormones much longer," she tells WebMD. "It was a bit of a shock that so many of them still experienced symptoms."
Prior to the publication of the WHI findings, physicians often kept postmenopausal women on estrogen therapy for decades with the belief that the treatment helped reduced their risk of age-related illnesses, including heart disease.
But the large government study revealed that hormone therapy did not prevent heart disease in older women. The study also showed an increased risk of stokes, blood clots, and breast cancer.
Women who don't want to take hormones have options, including lifestyle changes and behavioral interventions, says researcher Diana Petitti, MD, of Kaiser Permanente Southern California.
Widely recommended strategies to cope with hot flashes and night sweats include:
- Wearing layered cotton clothing
- Avoiding coffee, alcohol, and spicy foods
- Reducing stress with deep breathing exercises, medication, or yoga
- Sipping cool drinks throughout the day and using ice packs
- Getting regular exercise
Aerobic exercise was found to reduce hot flashes in one study, and working out with weights also helps maintain strong bones.
Many women swear by other treatments such as vitamin E, soy, and a host of over-the-counter products that contain botanicals like black cohosh and red clover. But the research on these treatments is inconclusive.
"Unfortunately, most of these alternative treatments have not been well tested," says clinical psychologist Judith Ockene, PhD, who headed the newly published study on WHI outcomes.
Ockene has received funding from the NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine to study the impact of soy and meditation on menopause symptoms.