Menopause and Hormone Therapy

Menopause is a natural occurrence in the body which is experienced by women of advanced age. Most women are experience discomfort during their menopausal stage. But what is menopause and what happens in a woman’s body when she goes through her menopausal stage.? What causes the discomforts and what can women do to ease them?

What is menopause?

Menopause is that that time in woman’s life when her ovaries cease to function. The ovary is one of a pair of female reproductive organs which is responsible for producing eggs. Every monthly cycle, an egg is released from one ovary which travels through the fallopian tube to the uterus.

The ovaries are also the main source of the female hormone estrogen which control the development of a woman’s body characteristics such as breasts, body shape and body hair. Hormones also regulate menstrual cycle and pregnancy and also protect the bone – the lack of estrogen can help cause osteoporosis.

What age does menopause happens?

The average age of menopause is 51. But there is no specific age when it can happen, and no way to predict when a woman will enter menopause. Most women reach menopause between the ages 45 to 50. But some women may enter menopause at 30, or not until she is 60. The age when women first got her period is not basis either, to determine when the onset of menopause will occur. But as a rough general rule, women tend to undergo menopause at an age similar to their mothers.

However, when a woman, undergoes surgery and other medical procedures wherein the ovaries are taken out or are affected, then menopause also occurs, and it is reported to have the same symptoms as that of normal menopause.

What are the symptoms of menopause?

  • Irregular vaginal bleeding – this is when a woman experience having irregular menstrual periods. For some women, their periods seem to happen more often meaning their cycles has shortened. While for some, their periods seem to come farther and farther from the lats, meaning their cycles lengthened, before stopping completely.
  • Hot flashes & night sweats – Hot flashes are characterized by a warm sensation which spreads throughout the body, usually concentrated on the head and on the chest. Hot flashes can last from about 30 seconds to several minutes and are usually followed by sweating or night sweats. This can lead to being awakened and difficulty to sleep again.
  • Emotional and cognitive symptoms – while it is difficult which changes in a woman’s behavior is the result of menopause, it is commonly accepted that women experience cognitive and emotional symptoms during menopause, such as fatigue, memory problems, irritability and rapid mood swings.
  • Vaginal symptoms – as estrogen levels fall, the result can lead to thinning and dryness of vaginal tissues which results in itching, irritation and/or pain during sexual intercourse.
  • Urinary symptoms – the urethra also undergoes the same changes as the vaginal tissues, increasing the risk or urinary tract infections or urinary incontinence (leakage of urine).
  • Other physical changes – some women report weight gain during menopause. The distribution of fat also changes with body fat being deposited mostly in the waist and abdominal area. The skin also changes, becoming dryer and less able to produce newer skin cells, resulting in wrinkles. The continuous production of the male hormone, testosterone can lead to some hair growth on the chin, upper lip, chest or abdomen.

Is hormone treatment the answer to problems during menopause?

Menopause is not a disease which requires treatment. It is a natural phase in a woman’s life. Treatments are created to relieve the signs and symptoms of menopause which causes discomfort.

By far, the most effective treatment for relieving menopausal hot flashes is estrogen treatment.It also helps ease vaginal itching, dryness, burning and discomfort during intercourse. You should consult your doctor first before deciding to take it. And should your personal and family medical history permit, estrogen should be taken in the lowest dose needed to relieve you of the discomfort and for short-term treatment only.

Other benefits of estrogen include: osteoporosis, colorectal cancer and heart disease.

But, though estrogen hormone treatment is the most effective treatment in relieving menopausal symptoms, there are risks to taking estrogen treatment.

Risks of hormone treatment

The Women’s Health Initiative conducted study on 10,000 women using estrogen or estrogen+progestin. They found that women taking estrogen+progestin had increased risk of developing serious conditions such as the following:

  • Seven more cases of heart disease
  • Eight more cases of breast cancer
  • Eight more cases of stroke
  • 18 more cases of blood clots

This is not saying that the increased risk to individual women is huge. But the overall risk to menopausal women as a group is became substantial public health concern. Apart from the risks mentioned above, women may also experience abnormal mammograms probably due to estrogen, which increases breast tissue density.

Who should and who should not take hormone therapy?

Though the facts stated above may sway you from trying estrogen hormone treatment, the individual risks for an individual women is actually quite low. Low enough that benefits of short-term therapy outweigh potential risks. Consult your doctor first before trying it out.

However, for women who have breast cancer, heart disease, or history of blood clots, estrogen treatments should not be taken. Plus, women who do not suffer from menopausal symptoms should not take estrogen therapy.

Protecting yourself from risks and alternatives to hormone therapy

Analysts of the data by Women’s Health Initiative suggest that there are several ways to reduce the risks of estrogen therapy.

  • Time your hormone intake correctly – the risks of heart disease are not significantly high in women 60. some studies even show that if taken during early menopausal years, estrogen may even protect your heart from diseases.
  • Take the lowest dose possible for the shortest length of time to relieve the discomforts of menopausal symptoms.
  • Find the best way for you to take estrogen treatment. Estrogen can be taken in the form of a pill, patch, gel, vaginal cream or slow-releasing suppository or ring that you place in your vagina. For menopausal symptom discomforts that are isolated or specific to the vagina, then it is more advisable and more effective to use vaginal cream, tablet or ring rather than a pill. It is also advised by doctors to take progestin along with estrogen to release the risk of uterine cancer.
  • If estrogen treatment is not appropriate or applicable to you, a change in lifestyle choices might be in order. Ask your doctor for suggestions on what you can do to treat your menopausal symptoms without having to take estrogen.

Estrogen hormone therapy is not the "bane or boon" of menopausal symptoms. It is neither the magic treatment for age-related discomforts or diseases. Neither is it a curse which causes all these diseases. What you can do is to regularly consult with your doctors throughout your menopausal years for health risks and individual symptoms. Meanwhile studies and researches on this problem will continue to find out risks and benefits or alternatives.