After menopause, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is often prescribed to resupply the body with the hormones it no longer produces. Discuss this with your doctor. As with any medication, there are risks and benefits, and each woman should decide if HRT is the right choice for her.
HRT typically consists of an estrogen/progestin supplement -- usually given orally or through a skin patch. Estrogen is the component that treats hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and increased risk of heart disease and osteoporosis (thinning of the bones).
When she was 26, Lara Dietz learned she had breast cancer -- a shock to this mother of two very young children. Then came the second blow. When treatment began, so did premature menopause. "I was having hot flashes," she says. "I felt like I was 55 years old."
When menopause occurs between ages 45 to 55, it is considered "natural." When it occurs before age 40 -- regardless the cause -- it is called premature menopause. The ovaries no longer produce an egg each month, so monthly menstrual cycles...
Estrogen can increase the risk of endometrial or uterine cancer -- since it stimulates cell growth -- but progestin counteracts that risk. However, progestin does have negative side effects like irregular bleeding, headaches, bloating, and breast swelling and pain. You may even develop an artificial monthly period, depending on the dosage you're on.
Estrogen may be used alone in women who have had a hysterectomy.
Recently, research on HRT through the Women's Health Initiative turned up some controversial findings: Heart attacks, strokes, blood clots, and breast cancer occurred more often in women taking combination HRT. Taking estrogen alone slightly increased the risk of stroke and blood clots and didn't appear to increase or decrease the risk of heart disease. No increased risk of breast cancer was found for those women on estrogen-only therapy.
Combination and estrogen-only HRT are still effective therapies for helping to prevent osteoporosis as well as for relieving menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes. While not appropriate for everyone, these treatments may still have their place for some women facing menopause or menopause-related issues, including osteoporosis.
Alternative Treatments for Menopause
As an alternative treatment for menopause symptoms, your doctor may prescribe a vaginal estrogen cream to help stop the thinning of vaginal tissues and improve lubrication.
Your diet can also help you get through menopause:
Eat foods high in plant estrogens -- such as soy beans and soy milk. Some research suggests soy may ease symptoms such as hot flashes. Other research shows it is not beneficial. Nuts and seeds, fennel, celery, parsley, and flaxseed oil may also help.
Raise your calcium intake -- to 1,000 to 1,500 mg a day -- and do regular weight-bearing exercise to avoid osteoporosis and maintain general good health.
An extract of black cohosh is thought to reduce symptoms without causing the problems associated with estrogen.
It is important to understand that there is little scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of these alternative treatments.