Your Sexual Health Update
Hormone Therapy: Help Is on the Way
Sometime in your 40s, your hormones begin to fluctuate, often resulting in hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and wacky menstrual cycles (not to mention moods). One of the most effective treatments to relieve these symptoms: hormone therapy (HT). Most doctors stopped prescribing it in 2000 when a highly publicized study showed it raised a woman's risk for breast cancer, heart disease, and stroke, but it's now being widely used again. That's because a reanalysis of the study's data found that HT doesn't increase your risk if it's been less than 10 years since the onset of menopause or if you're in your 50s or younger.
Some alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, and off-label treatments, including use of the anticonvulsant drug gabapentin, may help too, new research suggests. But "the gold standard for women with moderate to severe menopause symptoms is still hormone therapy, because it can reduce hot flashes up to 90 percent of the time," says JoAnn Pinkerton, MD, medical director of the Midlife Center for the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville.Protect-Yourself Plan
If you have more than seven hot flashes a day, interrupted sleep, fatigue, or irritability, consider HT. Your doctor can assess your risk for breast cancer and other health issues and "prescribe the lowest dose for the shortest period of time," says Dr. Pinkerton. It's also smart to request blood tests and ultrasounds to ensure that what you assume to be your natural "change of life" (such as a belly bulge) isn't something else entirely. Thyroid disease, fibroids, certain cancers -- even pregnancy -- can be misdiagnosed as menopause.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, June 2008.
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