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Menopause is the permanent cessation of reproductive fertility occurring some time before the end of the natural lifespan. The term was originally coined to describe this reproductive change in human females, where the end of fertility is traditionally indicated by the permanent stopping of monthly menstruation or "menses". The word "menopause" literally means the "end of monthly cycles" from the Greek words pausis (cessation) and the word root men from mensis meaning (month).

In humans, menopause is the time in a woman’s life when her reproductive cycles end. It is part of a biological process that for most women is first noticed in their mid-forties. During this transition, the ovaries start producing lower levels of natural sex hormones—estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen promotes the normal development of a woman’s breasts and uterus, controls the cycle of ovulation (when an ovary releases an egg into a fallopian tube), and affects many aspects of a woman’s physical and emotional health. Progesterone controls menstruation and prepares the lining of the uterus to receive the fertilized egg.

The meaning of the word menopause has in more recent times been expanded to indicate the permanent but naturally occurring discontinuation of female fertility in many other species, even if the females of those species do not have menstrual cycles.

Menopause in humans

In adult human females who still have a uterus, and who are not pregnant or lactating, postmenopause is identified by a permanent (at least one year's) absence of monthly periods or menstruation. In women without a uterus, menopause or postmenopause is identified by a very high FSH level.

In human females, menopause usually happens more or less in midlife, signaling the end of the fertile phase of a woman's life. Menopause is perhaps most easily understood as the opposite process to menarche, the start of the monthly periods. However, menopause in women cannot satisfactorily be defined simply as the permanent "stopping of the monthly periods", because in reality what is happening to the uterus is quite secondary to the process; it is what is happening to the ovaries that is the crucial factor.

As an illustration of this point: for medical reasons, the uterus must sometimes be surgically removed (hysterectomy) in a younger woman; her periods will cease permanently, and the woman will technically be infertile, but as long as at least one of her ovaries is still functioning, the woman will not have reached menopause. Even without the presence of the uterus, ovulation and the release of the sequence of reproductive hormones will continue to cycle on, until menopause is reached. But in circumstances where a woman's ovaries are removed (oophorectomy), even if the uterus were to be left intact, the woman will immediately be in "surgical menopause".

Thus menopause is based on the natural or surgical cessation of hormone production by the ovaries, which are a part of the body's endocrine system of hormone production, in this case the hormones which make reproduction possible and can influence sexual behavior. The resultant decreased levels of circulating estrogen impacts the entire cascade of a woman's reproductive functioning, from brain to skin.

The menopause transition, and post-menopause itself, is a natural life change, not a disease state or a disorder. The transition itself can be challenging for a number of women, but for others it is not difficult.

Age

In the Western world, the most typical age range for menopause (last period) is between the ages of 45 and 55 and the average age for last period is 51 years. In some developing countries however, such as Indonesia and the Philippines, the median age of natural menopause is considerably earlier, at 44 years.

In the Western World, a woman's last period occurring between the ages of 55 to 60 is known as a "late menopause". An "early menopause" is defined as having the final period somewhere between the age of 40 to 45.

Rarely, a woman's ovaries stop working at a very early age, ranging anywhere from the age of puberty to age 40, and this is known as premature ovarian failure (POF). POF is not considered to be due to the normal effects of aging. Some known causes of premature ovarian failure include autoimmune disorders, thyroid disease, diabetes mellitus, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. However, in the majority of spontaneous cases of premature ovarian failure, the cause is unknown.

Premature ovarian failure is diagnosed or confirmed by measuring the levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH); the levels of these hormones will be abnormally high if menopause has occurred. Rates of premature menopause have been found to be significantly higher in fraternal and identical twins; approximately 5% of twins reach menopause before the age of 40. The reasons for this are not completely understood. Transplants of ovarian tissue between identical twins have been successful in restoring fertility.

On average, women who smoke cigarettes experience menopause significantly earlier than non-smokers.

Menopause in human evolution

In contrast to males, females invest more in their gametes making them a highly valuable resource . Selection should therefore favour a quantity of ova sufficient for the female lifespan. Over-investment is resourcefully wasteful and under-investment leads to reduced fitness. Human females, however, spend over one third of their lifespan in a post-reproductive phase. Explanations of survival beyond reproductive maturation range from the non-adaptive to the adaptive.

Non-Adaptive Hypotheses

The high cost of female investment in offspring may lead to physiological deteriorations that amplify susceptibility to becoming infertile. This hypothesis suggests the reproductive lifespan in humans has been optimised, but it has proven more difficult in females and thus their reproductive span is shorter. If this hypothesis were true, age at menopause should be negatively correlated with reproductive effort and that available data do not support this .

A recent increase in female longevity due to improvements in the standard of living and social care has also been suggested . It is difficult for selection, however, to favour aid from offspring to parents and grandparents. Irrespective of living standards, adaptive responses are limited by physiological mechanisms. In other words senescence is programmed and regulated by specific genes.

Adaptive Hypotheses

The Grandmother hypothesis suggests that menopause was selected for in humans because it promotes the survival of grandchildren. According to this hypothesis, post reproductive women feed and care for children, adult nursing daughters, and grandchildren whose mothers have weaned them. Human babies require large and steady supplies of glucose to feed the growing brain. In infants in the first year of life, the brain consumes 60% of all calories, so both babies and their mothers require a dependable food supply. Some evidence suggests that hunters contribute less than half the total food budget of most hunter-gatherer societies, and often much less than half, so that foraging grandmothers can contribute substantially to the survival of grandchildren at times when mothers and fathers are unable to gather enough food for all of their children. In general, selection operates most powerfully during times of famine or other privation. So although grandmothers might not be necessary during good times, many grandchildren cannot survive without them during times of famine. Arguably, however, there is no firm consensus on the supposed evolutionary advantages (or simply neutrality) of menopause to the survival of the species in the evolutionary past.

Indeed, analysis of historical data found that the length of a female’s post-reproductive lifespan was reflected in the reproductive success of her offspring and the survival of her grandchildren. Interestingly, another study found comparative effects but only in the maternal grandmother – paternal grandmothers had a detrimental effect on infant mortality (probably due to paternity uncertainty). Differing assistance strategies for maternal and paternal grandmothers have also been demonstrated. Maternal grandmothers concentrate on offspring survival, whereas paternal grandmothers increase birth rates.

A problem concerning the grandmother hypothesis is that it requires a history of female philopatry and yet present day evidence shows that the majority of hunter-gatherer societies are patriarchal. In addition, all variations on the mother, or grandmother effect fail to explain longevity with continued spermatogenesis in males (oldest verified paternity is 94 years, 35 years beyond the oldest documented birth attributed to females). It also fails to explain the detrimental effects of losing ovarian follicular activity, such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and coronary artery disease.

The Patriarch Hypothesis

See main article: patriarch hypothesis

If women survive beyond an age at which they can reproduce and men continue spermatogenesis, then old males stand to benefit greatly if they can copulate with younger females. Increased use of tools and weapons compensates for the decline in natural fighting ability with age. This serves to produce a more stable male hierarchy, where attainment of high social status and reproductive access is less reliant on physical strength.

With such a scenario older males are able to retain a competitive ability with younger males, thereby asserting a selection pressure on extending longevity in males that could retain social status. Higher ranking males may also be a more attractive mate choice.

One mechanism that could extend the lifespan is delaying the age at maturity. Offspring with a slower life history would exhibit a protracted period of dependence. If depletion of oocytes occurs at age 50, females should selectively counter this as it reduces their fecundity. Recruitment of help from kin and husbands may compensate by enabling females to reduce birth intervals by weaning offspring at an earlier age. In addition, by passing on longevity to her sons, a female would stand to gain inclusive fitness.

Social and psychological significance: the three ages

The end of fertility in midlife ushers in the third part of a woman's life, also known as the "third age". Generally speaking, women raised or living in Western countries live long enough so that half of their adult life is spent in post-menopause. For some women, the menopausal transition represents a major life change, similar to menarche in the magnitude of its social and psychological significance.

In the ancient past, menarche and menopause were considered to mark the transitions from "maiden" to "matron", and from "matron" to "crone", (in other words, from little girl to reproductive woman and then to older woman.) Although the significance of the changes that surround menarche is still fairly well recognized, in countries such as the USA, the social and psychological ramifications of the menopause transition are frequently ignored or underestimated.Image:Uzbeki_girl.jpg|Girl (before puberty)Image:Punjabi_woman_smile.jpg|Woman of reproductive ageImage:HappyPensioneer.jpg|Older woman (after menopause)

Menopause in other species

Life histories show a varying degree of senescence; rapid senescing organisms (e.g. Pacific salmon and annual plants) do not have a post-reproductive life-stage. Gradual senescence is exhibited by all placental mammalian life histories. Menopause in the animal kingdom, however, appears perhaps to be somewhat uncommon. Although the incidence in different species has not been thoroughly researched, it has been observed in rhesus monkeys, chimpanzees , elephants , short-finned pilot whales and other cetaceans, as well as in a variety of other vertebrate species including the guppy, the platyfish, the budgerigar, the laboratory rat and mouse, and the opossum, as well as some whales.[7991] However, with the exception of the short-finned pilot whale, such examples tend to be from captive individuals and are not necessarily representative of natural populations.

Terminology, definitions, and commentary

Menopause

Clinically speaking, menopause is a date. For those women who still have a uterus, menopause is defined as the day after a woman's final period finishes. This date is fixed retrospectively, once 12 months have gone by with no menstrual flow at all. At this point a woman is considered to be a year into postmenopause, is considered to be infertile, and no longer needs to take into consideration the possibility of pregnancy.

In common everyday parlance however, the word "menopause" is usually not used to refer to one day, but to the whole of the menopause transition years. This span of time is also referred to as the change of life, the change, or the climacteric and more recently is known as "perimenopause", (literally meaning "around menopause").

The word menopause is also often used in popular parlance to mean all the years of postmenopause.

Perimenopause

In biomedicine, perimenopause is the term describing the menopause transition years. In women who have a uterus, perimenopause describes the years both before and after the final period (although it is only possible to determine in retrospect which episode of flow was indeed the final period).

During perimenopause, the production of most of the reproductive hormones, including the estrogens, progesterone and testosterone, diminishes and becomes more irregular, often with wide and unpredictable fluctuations in levels. During this period, fertility diminishes, but is not considered to reach zero until the official date of menopause. The official date is determined retroactively, 12 months after the last appearance of menstrual blood. Signs and effects of the menopause transition can begin as early as age 35, although most women become aware of the transition in their mid to late 40s, often many years after the actual beginning of the perimenopausal window. The duration of perimenopause with noticeable bodily effects can be as brief as a few years, but it is not unusual for the duration to last ten or more years. The actual duration and severity of perimenopause in any individual woman cannot currently be predicted in advance, and even during the process the course of an individual woman's perimenopause can be difficult if not impossible to chart.

In the perimenopause years, many women undergo noticeable and clinically observable physical changes resulting from hormonal fluctuations. The most well-known effect of these is the "hot flash" or "hot flush", a sudden temporary increase in body temperature. The "flash" sensation in a "hot flash" occurs as the body temperature soars upward at a rapid rate and reaches a peak mere fractions of a second after the onset of the temperature increase is first noticed. The "hot" sensation in a "hot flash" is not the initial temperature rise; instead, it is a reaction to the perceived slowness of the body's return to a more normal temperature range when compared to the speed of the run-up to the spike. Hot flashes can become so strong that they can raise the body temperature multiple degrees in a very short period of time; this extreme temperature differential can cause the sufferer to feel weak and break out in heavy sweating. Despite the discomfort to the woman, hot flashes are not considered harmful by physicians. In most cases, flashes can be treated to ease extreme discomfort, using prescription medications such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or SSRI medications, as well as by using over-the-counter plant estrogens and herbal remedies. Many women choose not to treat hot flashes through pharmacology and instead rely on dressing in ways to dissipate heat quickly (natural fibers, loose clothing, easily removable layers of lightweight garments) as well as mechanical means to aid the body in removing excess heat (fans, cool beverages, lighting changes, redirection of computer heat exhaust).

Other common effects encountered during the perimenopausal period include mood changes, insomnia, fatigue, and memory problems. The non-specific nature of these effects indicates to researchers that they may not be related to the actual hormonal fluctuations involved in menopause. One hypothesis as to why these effects are reported as either originating during or increasing in frequency or strength within perimenopause argues that these more general effects may be related to societal perceptions and economic realities about aging:

  • Changes in economic conditions affecting plans for retirement for someone who works outside the home
  • Having to deal with care for and/or the death of elderly parents
  • The so-called "empty-nest syndrome" when older children leave home
  • The birth of grandchildren placing people of "middle age" into a new category of "older people"
  • Experiencing the end of the fertility period


Even women who are free of any troublesome physical effects of perimenopause may still experience psychological issues related to aging as they approach the end of their childbearing years. Medical treatment for these issues has improved greatly with the development of geriatric medicine as a specialized health field, as well as the dramatic increase in pharmaceutical treatments available for mental disorders like depression and anxiety. Recent research shows that melatonin supplementation in perimenopausal women can produce a significant improvement in thyroid function and gonadotropin levels, as well as restoring fertility and menstruation and preventing the depression associated with the menopause.Bellipanni G, DI Marzo F, Blasi F, et al. Effects of melatonin in perimenopausal and menopausal women: our personal experience. 2005. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1057:393-402. DOI: 10.1196/annals.1356.030 PMID 16399909

Premenopause

Premenopause is a word used to describe the years leading up to the last period, when the levels of reproductive hormones are already becoming lower and more erratic, and the effects of hormone withdrawal may be present.

Postmenopause

Postmenopause is all of the time in a woman's life that take place after her last period, or more accurately, all of the time that follows the point when her ovaries become inactive.

A woman who still has her uterus (and who is neither pregnant nor lactating) can be declared to be in postmenopause once she has gone 12 full months with no flow at all, not even any spotting. When she reaches that point, she is one year into postmenopause.

The reason for this delay in declaring a woman postmenopausal is because periods are usually extremely erratic at this time of life, and therefore a reasonably long stretch of time is necessary to be sure that the cycling has actually ceased completely.

At this point a woman is considered infertile, and no longer needs to factor in the possibility of becoming pregnant. However the possibility of becoming pregnant has usually been very low (but not zero) for a number of years before this point is reached.

In women who have no uterus, and therefore have no periods, post-menopause can be determined by a blood test which can reveal the very high levels of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) that are typical of post-menopausal women.

A woman's reproductive hormone levels continue to drop and fluctuate for some time into post-menopause, so any hormone withdrawal symptoms that a woman may be experiencing do not necessarily stop right away, but may take quite some time, even several years, to disappear completely.

Any period-like flow that might occur during postmenopause, even just spotting, must be reported to a doctor. The cause may in fact be minor, but the possibility of endometrial cancer must be checked for and eliminated.

The causes of menopause

The causes of menopause can be considered from complementary proximate (mechanistic) and ultimate (adaptive evolutionary) perspectives.

Proximate perspective

Natural or physiological menopause occurs as a part of a woman's normal aging process. It is the result of the eventual atresia of almost all oocytes in the ovaries, causing an increase in circulating follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) levels as there are a decreased number of oocytes responding to these hormones and producing estrogen. This decrease in the production of estrogen leads to the perimenopausal symptoms of hot flashes, insomnia and mood changes. Long term effects may include osteoporosis and vaginal atrophy.

Menopause can be surgically induced by bilateral oophorectomy (removal of ovaries), which is often, but not always, done in conjunction with removal of the Fallopian tubes (salpingo-oophorectomy) and uterus (hysterectomy). Cessation of menses as a result of removal of the ovaries is called "surgical menopause". The sudden and complete drop in hormone levels usually produces extreme withdrawal symptoms such as hot flashes, etc. Removal of the uterus, hysterectomy, does not cause menopause, although pelvic surgery can often precipitate a somewhat earlier menopause, perhaps because of a compromised blood supply to the ovaries.

Cigarette smoking has been found to decrease the age of physiological menopause by as much as one year, and women who have undergone hysterectomy with ovary conservation go through menopause 3.7 years earlier than average. However, premature menopause (before the age of 40) is generally idiopathic.

Possible effects of perimenopause, the menopause transition time

During the menopause transition years, as the body responds to the rapidly changing levels of natural hormones, a number of effects may appear. Not every woman experiences bothersome levels of these effects, and the range of effects and the degree to which they appear is very variable from person to person. Effects that are due to low estrogen levels (for example vaginal atrophy and skin drying) will continue after the menopause transition years are over; however, many effects that are caused by the extreme fluctuations in hormone levels (for example hot flashes and mood changes) usually disappear or improve significantly once the perimenopause transition time has been completed. All the various possible perimenopause effects are caused by an overall drop, as well as dramatic but erratic fluctuations, in the absolute levels and relative levels of estrogens and progesterone. Some of the effects, such as formication, may be associated directly with hormone withdrawal.

Both users and non-users of hormone replacement therapy identify lack of energy as the most frequent and distressing effect. Other effects can include vasomotor symptoms such as hot flashes and palpitations, psychological effects such as depression, anxiety, irritability, mood swings, memory problems and lack of concentration, and atrophic effects such as vaginal dryness and urgency of urination.

The average woman also has increasingly erratic menstrual periods, due to skipped ovulations. Typically, the timing of the flow becomes unpredictable. In addition the duration of the flow may be considerably shorter or longer than normal, and the flow itself may be significantly heavier or lighter than was previously the case, including sometimes long episodes of spotting. Early in the process it is not uncommon to have some 2-week cycles. Further into the process it is common to skip periods for months at a time, and these skipped periods may be followed by a heavier period. The number of skipped periods in a row often increases as the time of last period approaches. At the point when a woman of menopausal age has had no periods or spotting for 12 months she is considered to be one year into post-menopause.

Vascular instability

Urogenital atrophy, also known as vaginal atrophy, (main article: Atrophic vaginitis)

Skeletal

Skin, soft tissue
  • breast atrophy
breast tenderness +/- swelling
  • skin thinning and becoming drier
  • decreased elasticity of the skin
  • formication, a sensation rather like pins and needles, more specifically like ants crawling on or under the skin


Psychological

Sexual

Cohort studies have reached mixed conclusions about medical conditions associated with the menopause. For example, a 2007 study found that menopause was associated with hot flashes; joint pain and muscle pain; and depressed mood. In the same study, it appeared that menopause was not associated with poor sleep, decreased libido, and vaginal dryness. However, a 2008 study found an association with poor sleep quality.

Influence of cultural context

The cultural context within which a woman lives can have a significant impact on the way she experiences the menopausal transition. Within the United States, social location affects the way women perceive menopause and its related biological effects. Research indicates that whether a woman views menopause as a medical issue or an expected life change is correlated with her socio-economic status . The paradigm within which a woman considers menopause also influences the way she views it: women who understand menopause as a medical condition rate it significantly more negatively than those who view it as a life transition or a symbol of aging .

Ethnicity and geographical location also play a role in the experience of menopause. U.S. women of different ethnicities report significantly different types of menopausal "symptoms". One major study found Caucasian women most likely to report what are sometimes described as psychosomatic symptoms, while African-American women were more likely to report vasomotor symptoms . Additionally, while most women in the United States have a negative view of menopause as a time of deterioration or decline, some studies indicate that Asian women have an understanding of menopause that focuses on a sense of liberation, and celebrates the freedom from the risk of pregnancy . Diverging from these conclusions, one study appeared to show that many U.S. women "experience this time as one of liberation and self-actualization." .

Need for more education about menopause

Many women arrive at their menopause years without knowing anything about what they might expect, or when or how the process might happen, and how long it might take. Very often a woman has not been informed in any way about this stage of life; at least in the US, it may often be the case that she has received no information from her physician, or from her older female family members, or from her social group. In the US, there appears to be a lingering taboo which hangs over this subject.

As a result, a woman who happens to undergo a strong perimenopause with a large number of different effects, may become confused and anxious, fearing that something abnormal is happening to her. There is a strong need for more information and more education on this subject.

Palliative therapies

Perimenopause is a natural stage of life. It is not a disease or a disorder, and therefore it does not automatically require any kind of medical treatment. However, in cases where the physical, mental, and emotional effects of perimenopause are severe, and disrupt the everyday life of the woman experiencing them, palliative medical therapy may sometimes be appropriate and helpful.

Hormone replacement therapy

See also Hormone replacement therapy .


There are several types of hormone therapies, with various possible side effects. Hormone replacement therapy or HRT, known in Britainmarker as Hormone Therapy or HT, and the SSRIs appear to provide the most reliable pharmaceutical relief. However, adverse effects of one kind of HRT (equine estrogen combined with a synthetic progestin) are now well documented. See the section below on "Adverse effects of conjugated equine estrogens".

In addition to relief from hot flashes, hormone therapy remains an effective treatment for osteoporosis.

A woman and her doctor should carefully review her situation, her complaints and her relative risk before determining whether the benefits of HT/HRT or other therapies outweigh the risks. Until more becomes understood about the possible risks, women who elect to use hormone replacement therapy are generally well advised to take the lowest effective dose of hormones for the shortest period possible, and to question their doctors as to whether certain forms might pose fewer dangers of clots or cancer than others.

In HT or HRT, one or more estrogens, usually in combination with progesterone, (and sometimes testosterone) are administered, not only to partially compensate for the body's loss of these hormones, but also in an attempt to keep the levels of these hormones in the body much more consistent than they are naturally in perimenopause.

In those women who have no uterus (usually due to a previous hysterectomy), estrogen alone is a suitable hormone therapy and is in fact preferable to continuing to use progesterone when its function as a moderating influence on growth of the endometrium (uterine lining) is no longer required. Women who still have a uterus need to take progesterone in addition to estrogen in order to ensure that the endometrium does not continue to build between the increasingly fewer periods of the perimenopausal year, which would raise the risk for cancer of the endometrium.

Conjugated equine estrogens

See also Types of Hormone Replacement Therapy


Conjugated equine estrogens contain estrogen molecules conjugated to hydrophilic side groups (e.g. sulfate) and are produced from the urine of pregnant Equidae (horses) mares. Premarin is the prime example of this, either alone or in Prempro, where it is combined with a synthetic progestin, medroxyprogesterone acetate. However Premarin, and especially Prempro, are associated with serious health risks.

In January 2003, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required Wyeth to affix a "black box" warning to PremPro , stating:

"WARNING:

Estrogens and progestins should not be used for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) reported increased risks of myocardial infarction, stroke, invasive breast cancer, pulmonary emboli, and deep vein thrombosis in postmenopausal women during 5 years of treatment with conjugated equine estrogens (0.625 mg) combined with medroxyprogesterone acetate (2.5 mg) relative to placebo (see CLINICAL PHARMACOLOGY, Clinical Studies). Other doses of conjugated estrogens and medroxyprogesterone acetate, and other combinations of estrogens and progestins were not studied in the WHI ..."


Adverse effects of conjugated equine estrogens

See also Types of Hormone Replacement Therapy


Women had been advised for many years by numerous doctors and drug company marketing efforts (at least in the USA) that hormone therapy with conjugated equine estrogens after menopause might reduce their risk of heart disease and prevent various aspects of aging. However, a large, randomized, controlled trial (the Women's Health Initiative) found that women undergoing HT or HRT with conjugated equine estrogens (Premarin), whether or not used in combination with a synthetic progestin (Premarin plus Provera, known as Prempro), had an increased risk of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer's disease. Although this increase in risk was small overall, it passed the thresholds that had been established by the researchers in advance as sufficient to ethically require stopping the study.

When these results were first reported in 2002, the popular media sensationalized the story and exaggerated the risk, while the manufacturer continued to attempt to minimize the degree of risk. However most news stories failed to mention that the average age of the women in WHI was 62 years old, significantly older than the time when most doctors start patients on HRT, and in fact many years into postmenopause. In order to enroll in the study, patients had to be asymptomatic of hot flashes, so they would not know whether they received the placebo. For these reasons WHI was not representative of generally accepted clinical practice.

The 2002 and 2003 announcements of the Women's Health Initiative of the American National Institute of Health and The Million Women Study of the UKmarker Cancer Research and National Health Service collaboration respectively, that HRT treatment coincides with a increased incidence of breast cancer, heart attacks and strokes, lead to a sharp decline in HRT prescription throughout the world , which was followed by a decrease in breast cancer incidence .

On hearing the news about the WHI study, many women discontinued equine estrogens altogether, with or without their doctor's approval. The number of prescriptions written for Premarin and PremPro in the United States dropped within a year almost to half of their previous level. This sharp drop in usage was followed by large and successively larger drops in new breast cancer diagnoses, at six months, one year, and 18 months after the drop in Premarin and Prempro prescriptions, for a cumulative 15% drop by the end of 2003. However, the apparent meaning of this correlation is called into question by the fact that prescriptions of Prempro and Premarin fell dramatically in Canada as well, but no similarly dramatic drop in Canada's breast cancer rates was observed during the same time period. Studies designed to track the further progression of this trend after 2003 are under way, as well as studies designed to quantify how much of the drop was related to the reduced use of HT/HRT.

Other forms of hormone therapy

See also Types of Hormone Replacement Therapy


The adverse biological effects of xenoestrogens and progestins revealed by studies of Premarin and PremPro do not necessarily generalize to supplementation with human forms of estrogen and progesterone. For example, a pilot study reported in JAMA by Smith, Heckbert, et al. found clinical evidence that oral conjugated equine estrogens caused clotting, but the other estrogen compound tested in the same study, bioidentical esterified estrogens, did not. conjugated equine estrogens were found to be associated with increased venous thrombotic risk. In sharp contrast, the study found that users of esterified estrogen had no increase in venous thrombotic risk.

Because of the controversy about Premarin-based hormone therapy, a significant percentage of doctors now prescribe bioidentical hormone products to their patients who request HRT to ease their perimenopausal symptoms. Estradiol is a precursor to estrogen in the human body; sold under the brand name Estrace, estradiol products produce fewer side effects than conjugated equine estrogens. Prometrium is a bioidentical progesterone which can be used in conjunction with Estrace to produce a PremPro-like blend for women who desire or require a combined HRT (e.g. women who still have a uterus, since estrogen and estrogen precursors are known to cause uterine cancer when used without the protective qualities of progesterone). However, all hormone replacement therapies do carry some health risks, including high blood pressure, blood clots, and increased risks of breast and uterine cancers. Women who have had a hysterectomy seem to tolerate estrogen-only therapy with fewer risks than apply to mixed-HRT in women who still have a uterus.

Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators (SERMs)

SERMs are a category of drugs, either synthetically produced or derived from a botanical source (Phytoserms), that act selectively as agonists or antagonists on the estrogen receptors throughout the body. While most SERMs are known to increase hot flushes, Femarelle decreases them. In addition to the relieving effects on menopausal symptoms, Femarelle also increases bone mass density (BMD), making it protective against osteoporotic fractures. These effects are achieved by an agonistic interaction with estrogen receptors in the brain and bone. On the other hand, an antagonist interaction with estrogen receptors in the breast and uterus, has no effect on these tissues.

Antidepressants

Antidepressants such as paroxetine (Paxil), Fluoxetine hydrochloride (Prozac), and Venlafaxine hydrochloride (Effexor) have been used with some success in the treatment of hot flashes, improving sleep, mood, and quality of life. There is a theoretical reason why SSRI antidepressants might help with memory problems—they increase circulating levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain and restore hippocampal function . Sarafem is prescribed for premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a mood disorder often exacerbated during perimenopause and early menopause. PMDD has been found by PET scans to be accompanied by a sharp drop in serotonin in the brain, and to respond quickly and powerfully to SSRIs .

Gabapentin

Gabapentin and other GABA analogs are anti-seizure medications. Several GABA analogs are prescribed off-label for a variety of other conditions (such as pregabalin being used to treat the symptoms of fibromyalgia under the brand name Lyrica); gabapentin itself has been shown to be as effective as estrogen at reducing hot flashes.

Blood pressure medicines

Blood pressure medicines including clonidine (Catapres) are about as effective as antidepressants for hot flashes, but do not have the other mind and mood benefits of antidepressants. However they may merit special consideration by women suffering both from high blood pressure and hot flashes .

Complementary and alternative therapies

It is important to examine the claim that herbal remedies help relieve menopausal symptoms. Some botanical sources, referred to as phytoestrogens, are known to have an estrogenic effect on the body and therefore create a moderated estrogenic effect . Others, such as Femarelle, have Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulator (SERM) qualities, thereby reducing the safety risks involved in estrogenic-like treatments

In the area of complementary and alternative therapies, acupuncture treatment is promising. There are some studies indicating positive effects, especially on hot flashes
but also others   showing no positive effects of acupuncture regarding menopause.


There are regular claims that soy isoflavones are beneficial concerning menopause. However, one study indicated that soy isoflavones did not improve or appreciably affect cognitive functioning in postmenopausal women.

Other remedies which work in some studies but in others appear to be no better than a placebo include red clover isoflavone extracts and black cohosh. Black cohosh can cause the stimulation of pre-existing breast cancer and liver toxicity .

Other therapies

  • Lack of lubrication is a common problem during and after perimenopause. Vaginal moisturizers can help women with overall dryness, and lubricants can help with lubrication difficulties that may be present during intercourse. It is worth pointing out that moisturizers and lubricants are different products for different issues: some women feel unpleasantly dry all of the time apart from during sex, and they may do better with moisturizers all of the time. Those who need only lubricants are fine just using the lubrication products during intercourse.


  • Low-dose prescription vaginal estrogen products such as estrogen creams are generally a safe way to use estrogen topically, in order to help vaginal thinning and dryness problems (see vaginal atrophy) while only minimally increasing the levels of estrogen in the bloodstream.


  • In terms of managing hot flashes, lifestyle measures, such as drinking cold liquids, staying in cool rooms, using fans, removing excess clothing layers when a hot flash strikes, and avoiding hot flash triggers such as hot drinks, spicy foods, etc, may partially supplement (or even obviate) the use of medications for some women.


  • Individual counseling or support groups can sometimes be helpful to handle sad, depressed, anxious or confused feelings women may be having as they pass through what can be for some a very challenging transition time.


See also



References

External links






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