Menopause, often called "the change," affects all women eventually. Menopause is a term used to describe the cessation of menses, when the ovaries stop producing hormone cycles. This signals the end of the fertile phase of a woman's life.
This time of a woman's life usually comes with a variety of troublesome symptoms that might include hot flashes, night sweats, sleeping problems, mood swings and weight gain. Exercise has been shown to greatly decrease menopausal symptoms.
Some turn to herbs (black cohash or evening primrose oil), phyto-estrogens found in some foods and acupuncture for relief.
A woman might consider hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, to alleviate menopausal symptoms. Traditional hormone replacement therapy replaces the declining estrogen levels after menopause. Progesterone also is replaced in women who have not had hysterectomies.
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Another form of HRT is bioidentical hormones, laboratory-made female hormones based on compounds found in plants, usually soy beans or wild yams. Bioidentical hormones are processed by a compounding pharmacist who provides medications that have a customized formulation to meet a patient's specific needs. These hormones come in various forms including tablets, under-the-skin pellets, creams, gels and nasal sprays.
The decision to take HRT should not be make lightly. There are several risks and benefits that need to be considered carefully.
■ Relief from hot flushes and vaginal dryness.
■ Reduced bone loss.
■ Ease of mood swings and improved sleep patterns.
■ Reduced facial hair.
■ Reduced risk of colon cancer.
■ Reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease.
■ Possible return of vaginal bleeding.
■ Side effects such as breast tenderness, headaches, bloating and weight gain
■ Possible feeling of premenstrual tension
■ More risk of breast cancer but no known increased risk of death from breast cancer.
■ Slight increased risk of endometrial cancer unless taken with progesterone
■ Slight increased risk of gallstones
■ Increased risk of blood clots in the legs (deep vein thrombosis) that can break off and travel to the lungs (pulmonary embolism).
■ Risk of heart attack and stroke.
Menopause can be a very emotional yet manageable time. Speak to your physician to see whether HRT is the best choice for you. A well-informed patient makes the best decisions.