Menopause is a natural biological process every woman experiences as her body prepares to end its ability to reproduce. It is not classified as a medical illness. Menopause is the permanent end of a woman’s menstrual cycle and can start in one’s forty’s. The drop in hormone production that occurs in a woman’s body during menopause can cause unpleasant changes. Some common menopause symptoms include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, insomnia, a frequent need to urinate, depression, osteoporosis and mood swings.
Because menopause is not an illness, there is no “cure” for the process. One of the most controversial methods to treating the unpleasant symptoms of menopause is hormone replacement therapy. For many years, hormone therapy, which provides the body with an extra supply of the hormones estrogen and progestin needed to avoid unpleasant symptoms, was regularly used to treat menopause symptoms until the early 2000s.
In 2002, the Women’s Health Initiative published the results of a large clinical trial that discovered hormone therapy actually carried some serious health risks. The major health risks include an increased risk for heart disease, stroke and blood clots. In 2010, a new study from the Women’s Health Initiative confirmed that hormone therapy nearly doubles the risk of a woman developing heart disease within the first two years of treatment.
Hormone therapy is recommended almost exclusively for younger postmenopausal women, particularly those who have had early-onset menopause. The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) and the Endocrine Society both issued new hormone therapy guidelines in 2010, stating that the benefits outweigh the risks only for women who initiate hormone therapy close to the onset of menopause, and that the benefit-to-risk ratio decreases significantly with age.
New Menopause Treatment Options
While hormone therapy is still a viable treatment option for many women, alternatives have started to emerge. One example of an alternative treatment is using guided imagery and hypnotic relaxation therapy to ease hot flashes.