So, I think it fair to say, many of you may be a little through with me after the last blog. Didn’t leave much to feel good about. In fact, a few bottom lips may still be on the ground after the uterine prolapse description; however, fear no more. Women have many treatment options at their disposal to deal with the physical effects of menopause (yes—even the effects on sexual function!).
I started out this series with my take on the “fountain of youth.” Certainly healthy eating, exercise and the like help maintain overall vitality, but rarely are enough to alleviate many of the bothersome symptoms associated with menopause such as painful sex or hot flashes. For some women, making a few minor lifestyle changes may help, while others (many of us) will need a little extra umph! I am here to break down the many “umphs” out there for you to try
When I discuss treatment with patients, I like to make things simple. Treatment can be broken down into three categories: hormonal, non-hormonal and complementary and alternative modalities. Here are some basic definitions…
- Hormonal: Menopause Hormone Replacement Therapy (MHT or HRT) encompasses a wide variety of treatments. In my blog defining menopause, I explained that menopause occurs when the ovaries no longer make certain hormones, like estrogen. This can happen naturally with age or due to surgery, pelvic radiation or medical treatment. Hormone therapy works by replacing some of those hormones including “bioidentical” hormonal therapy (more on this next time). The goal of hormone replacement is to relieve symptoms of menopause.
- Non-hormonal: These are prescription medications that do not include hormones and are used to treat hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings associated with menopause. Examples include: certain antidepressants, clonidine and gabapentin.
- Complementary and alternative modalities (CAM): An umbrella term used to describe non-traditional or unconventional medical approaches. Treatment with natural products like minerals/herbals, vitamins and mind-body practices fall under this classification.
Which is the best? Well, a treatment plan for menopausal symptoms should always be specific to the patient. Meaning that decisions about treatment are made based on your symptoms, your personal risk factors, and needs. The woman with mild hot flashes may take an entirely different approach than the woman who cannot have intercourse because it is too painful without lubrication. Finding the optimal treatment strategy might even mean combining these different treatment types into the perfect, hybrid plan for you.
If you want to start thinking about your options today, The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) provides great information on the basics. Consider scheduling an appointment with a gynecologist to discuss a treatment plan if you are experiencing bothersome symptoms. And don’t worry—I got you! I will continue blogging about my own research, knowledge, and opinions about the multitude of treatment options out there.
Speaking of my opinions, here is my disclaimer: I promise to provide a comprehensive, unbiased review of both traditional and non-traditional menopausal treatments, but I must confess – I am wimpy. I do not like to suffer and I have been a “cut to the chase kind of girl” since birth. Which means, I am partial to the treatment options that will alleviate my symptoms completely, the fastest. I liken it to when I was pregnant. It never occurred to me to go through childbirth without an epidural or outside the doors of a pristine, sanitized hospital. However, I know many women who do labor very well sans the modern conveniences.
So what does my no-nonsense and comfort-oriented approach have to do with menopause? Just as I didn’t consider going through labor without modern medicine, I have no intention of going through menopause without it either. Fortunately, I have mastered the art of impartiality, meaning I will share treatment options that will resonate with women like myself as well as those who prefer a more holistic approach, and everyone in between. Next time, we will start with a discussion about hormonal therapy (the epidural of menopause), and following installments will focus on non-hormonal treatment options and CAM.
Between menopausal symptoms and changes in our bodies that happen with age, it is no wonder some women feel hopeless at times. The thought of treatment can be equally daunting. There are so many myths and fears about hormone replacement and alternative treatments. My hope is to break things down in a way that the risks and benefits are clear. Maybe that is the title for the next blog… “Demystifying Hormone Replacement.” Stay tuned!
Photo by Dario Valenzuela on Unsplash