I am passionate about educating the sisterhood on the latest information on perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause. I have interviewed the best scientists and doctors in the field and imparted that info to you in easy-to-understand lay-person speak via my books and trademarked Menopause Mondays® blogs. Over these many years, countless women have shared their tremendous and often quality of life-altering menopausal struggles. Many women experience insomnia, hot flashes, night sweats, brain fog, emotional highs and lows, depression, dry vagina, and loss of libido- just to name a few.
For many women, these symptoms impact their marriage, work, and relationships.
Why do women struggle? It is simple – they are afraid of taking hormone therapy (HT). Although I have reported on the numerous studies and latest information on HT, women still seem to have the old, improperly reported info from the 2002 Women’s Health Initiative playing over and over again in their brains. Please erase this old information and open your mind to the 2022 science on HT from the North American Menopause Society (NAMS).
For those of you unfamiliar with who NAMS is. NAMS is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1989, to promote the health and quality of life of all women during midlife and beyond through an understanding of menopause and healthy aging. The organization is made up of clinical and basic science experts from medicine, nursing, sociology, psychology, nutrition, anthropology, epidemiology, pharmacy, and education. To learn more about NAMS, visit www.menopause.org.
“NAMS is pleased to announce the release of its updated Position Statement on hormone therapy,” says Dr. Stephanie S. Faubion, NAMS Medical Director and lead of the Position Statement Advisory Panel. “Since our last Position Statement on hormone therapy published in 2017, there have been important additions that further clarify the balance of risks and benefits of hormone therapy options for menopause symptoms. NAMS has reviewed existing data on hormone therapies published after the last Position Statement and, after exhaustive research and review of the literature, we have found that what hasn’t changed is that hormone therapy remains the most effective treatment for vasomotor symptoms and the genitourinary syndrome of menopause and has been shown to prevent bone loss and fracture.”
NAMS provides the following very helpful MenoNote summary:
Deciding About Hormone Therapy Use
Many women experience hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and other physical changes with menopause. For some women, the symptoms are mild and do not require any treatment. For others, symptoms are moderate or severe and interfere with daily activities. Hot flashes improve with time, but some women have bothersome hot flashes for many years. Menopause symptoms often improve with lifestyle changes and nonprescription remedies, but prescription therapies also are available, if needed. Government-approved treatments for bothersome hot flashes include hormone therapy (HT) containing estrogen, as well as a nonhormone medication (paroxetine).
Hormone therapy involves taking estrogen in doses high enough to raise the level of estrogen in your blood in order to treat hot flashes and other symptoms. Because estrogen stimulates the lining of the uterus, women with a uterus need to take an additional hormone, progestogen, to protect the uterus. Women without a uterus just take estrogen. If you are bothered only by vaginal dryness, you can use very low doses of estrogen placed directly into the vagina. These low doses generally do not raise blood estrogen levels above postmenopause levels and do not treat hot flashes. You do not need to take a progestogen when using only low doses of estrogen in the vagina. (The MenoNote “Vaginal Dryness” covers this topic in detail.)
Every woman is different, and you will decide about whether to use HT based on the severity of your symptoms, your personal and family health history, and your own beliefs about menopause treatments. Your healthcare professional will be able to help you with your decision.
Hormone therapy is one of the most effective treatments available for bothersome hot flashes and night sweats. If hot flashes and night sweats are disrupting your daily activities and sleep, HT may improve sleep and fatigue, mood, ability to concentrate, and overall quality of life. Treatment of bothersome hot flashes and night sweats is the principal reason women use HT. Hormone therapy also treats vaginal dryness and painful sex associated with menopause. Hormone therapy keeps your bones strong by preserving bone density and decreasing your risk of osteoporosis and fractures. If preserving bone density is your only concern, and you do not have bothersome hot flashes, other treatments may be recommended instead of HT.
As with all medications, HT is associated with some potential risks. For healthy women with bothersome hot flashes aged younger than 60 years or within 10 years of menopause, the benefits of HT generally outweigh the risks. Hormone therapy might slightly increase your risk of stroke or blood clots in the legs or lungs (especially if taken in pill form). If started in women aged older than 65 years, HT might increase the risk of dementia. If you have a uterus and take estrogen with progestogen, there is no increased risk of cancer of the uterus. Hormone therapy (combined estrogen and progestogen) might slightly increase your risk of breast cancer if used for more than 4 to 5 years. Using estrogen alone (for women without a uterus) does not increase breast cancer risk at 7 years but may increase risk if used for a longer time.
Some studies suggest that HT might be good for your heart if you start before age 60 or within 10 years of menopause. However, if you start HT further from menopause or after age 60, HT might slightly increase your risk of heart disease. Although there are risks associated with taking HT, they are not common, and most go away after you stop treatment.
Potential adverse events
Hormone therapy can cause breast tenderness, nausea, and irregular bleeding or spotting. These adverse effects are not serious but can be bothersome. Reducing your dose of HT or switching the form of HT you use often can decrease adverse effects. Weight gain is a common problem for midlife women, associated with both aging and hormone changes. Hormone therapy is not associated with weight gain and may lower the chance of developing diabetes.
Hormone therapy options
Each woman must make her own decision about HT with the help of a healthcare professional. If you decide to take HT, the next step is to choose between the many HT options available to find the best dose and route for you. With guidance from your healthcare professional, you can try different forms of HT until you find the type and dose that treats your symptoms with few adverse effects.
Pill or non-pill
Hormone therapy is available as a daily pill, but it also may be taken as a skin patch, gel, cream, spray, or vaginal ring. Non-pill forms may be more convenient. Hormone therapy pills need to be taken every day, but skin patches are changed only once or twice weekly, and the HT vaginal ring is changed only every 3 months. Hormone therapy taken in non-pill form enters your blood stream more directly, with less effect on the liver. Studies suggest that this may lower the risk of blood clots in the legs and lungs compared with HT taken as a pill.
Estrogen alone or estrogen plus progestogen
If you have a uterus, you will need to take progestogen with your estrogen. Many pills and some patches contain both hormones together. Otherwise, you will need to take two separate hormones (eg, estrogen pill with progestogen pill or estrogen patch with progestogen pill). Taking both hormones every day usually results in no bleeding. Women who prefer regular periods can take estrogen every day and progestogen for about 2 weeks each month. Another option is to take estrogen combined with a nonhormone medication (bazedoxifene) to protect the uterus. If you do not have a uterus, you can take estrogen alone, without a progestogen.
Dose of estrogen
As with all medications, you should take the lowest dose of estrogen that relieves your hot flashes. You can work with your healthcare professional to find the right dose for you. It typically takes about 8 to 12 weeks for HT to have its full effect, so doses should be adjusted slowly. Even low doses of estrogen will preserve your bone density and reduce your risk of a fracture.
Stopping hormone therapy
There is no “right” time to stop HT. Many women try to stop HT after 4 to 5 years because of concerns about potential increased risk of breast cancer. Other women may lower doses or change to non-pill forms of HT. Hot flashes may or may not return after you stop HT. Although not proven by studies, slowly decreasing your dose of estrogen over several months or even over several years may reduce the chance that your hot flashes will come back. You and your healthcare professional will work together to decide the best time to stop HT. If very bothersome hot flashes or night sweats return when you stop HT, you will need to reassess your individual risks and benefits to decide whether to continue HT. Because there may be greater risks with longer duration of use and as you age, you and your healthcare professional will work together to decide what is the best option for you.
This MenoNote, developed by the NAMS Education Committee of The North American Menopause Society, provides current general information but not specific medical advice. It is not intended to substitute for the judgment of a person’s healthcare professional. Additional information can be found at www.menopause.org. Copyright © 2022 The North American Menopause Society. All rights reserved. NAMS grants permission to healthcare professionals to reproduce this MenoNote for distribution to women in their quest for good health.
Be sure to find a good menopause specialist to help you with your menopause journey. If you don’t have one, I have some great tips on how to find one in this blog: Menopause Mondays®: Tips on How to Find a Menopause Specialist. While you are at it, start charting your menopause symptoms with my Menopause Mondays® Symptoms Chart.
I hope this information helps you to base your own personal healthcare on FACTS instead of FEAR.
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