Menopause symptoms are commonly treated by hormone therapy. Alternative therapies are used as well as other non-treatment options to reduce the symptoms of menopause.
Are there treatments than can help lessen menopause symptoms?
Hormone therapy is a hormone medicine which decreases or stops hot flushes and night sweats which some people have at menopause. Hormone therapy comes in pills, implants, creams and gels, or patches applied to the skin.
What is hormone therapy?
Hormone therapy consists of either oestrogen-only or a combined therapy of oestrogen and progestogen.
If you have had a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) and wish to use hormone therapy, you can use oestrogen-only.
If you have a uterus and wish to use hormone therapy, you must use combined therapy as oestrogen-only can cause cancer in the endometrium (lining of the uterus). When progestogen is added the endometrium is protected.
For more information on hormone therapy, read the Family Planning Hormone Therapy pamphlet.
What about alternative therapies?
Some alternative remedies are often suggested for hot flushes and night sweats. There is little information about the safety of these alternatives, especially when used long-term.
Some alternative remedies include:
- Black cohosh (Cimicufuga racemosa) is a herb available from herbalists, health food shops and some pharmacies. Some small studies have shown that black cohosh is effective at reducing hot flushes and night sweats, but a recent Cochrane review of all the research has found that black cohosh is no more effective for flushes than a placebo
- Phytoestrogens are plant hormones found in some foods and in supplements. Phytoestrogens are like oestrogens and they are not necessarily safe just because they come from plants. There is some evidence that foods containing phytoestrogens or phytoestrogen supplements may help with hot flushes, though not all studies show this effect. Long-term safety has not been studied
- ‘natural’ progesterone cream is widely advertised for menopausal symptoms, but there are only a few studies looking at the effect for hot flushes. Some studies show it helps with hot flushes but others do not. It can only be obtained on a doctor’s prescription.
Some people report relief from using the following alternative therapies, and some studies have shown they can be helpful.
- St John’s Wort – for mild depression and mood swings (caution is advised if using the oral contraceptive pill or other medications).
- Ginkgo Biloba - for short-term memory loss, slow reaction time, energy levels and concentration.
- Acupuncture - can help with hot flushes.
What else can be done to reduce symptoms?
- Avoid tight clothing and wear layers of natural fibres to help manage hot flushes
- Drink less caffeine.
- Cut back on eating spicy foods.
- Use cotton sheets on the bed.
- If you have a partner, try different weight duvets (lighter for you, heavier for your partner) to minimise sleep disruption for your partner.
What can be done about painful sex?
Vaginal dryness may be experienced after menopause. This is uncomfortable and can make vaginal sex painful. Vaginal oestrogen cream is available on prescription. It increases vaginal moisture and makes penetrative sex more comfortable. Water-based lube might also make sex less painful.
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