When it comes to medical strategies, one size never fits all. Dosages and directions for use need to be individualized. Genetic factors, current health status, age, diet, exercise and weight play important roles. As do total health outcomes.
Earlier today, I was reading an article* for a project that I am working on and ran across the following sentence:
“Clinicians are interested not only in improving symptoms, but also in total outcomes, i.e. changes in patients’ current and future health due to effects of treatment.” The author, Dr. Michael Blaiss, goes on to explain that not only is the clinical response important, but also, quality of life and cost should be taken into consideration.”
I can think of nowhere where this statement is more important than in the treatment of menopausal symptoms. One size, indeed, does not fit all. Therapeutic strategies should be individualized and address a woman’s specific symptoms, her age, her current menopausal status, smoking history, health history, diet, genetics and preferences. A single tablet is no more the answer than a standardized dose of hormone replacement therapy (or menopausal replacement therapy — MHT — as it is called in other developed nations).
Recently, a group of organizations** devoted to menopause, reproductive medicine and endocrinology convened to issue a new statement about the use of hormonal therapy during menopause. To be entirely honest, this is the first time that I’ve believed such a statement is without bias and was not driven by pharmaceutical interests. It also appears to reflect the total outcomes concept. And so, I wanted to share a summary of a few key recommendations so that you can make an informed decision about addressing your menopausal symptoms.
- Menopausal Hormone Therapy or MHT is [one] of the most effective treatments for vasomotor symptoms but benefits are likely to outweigh risks [only] before age 60 or within 10 years after menopause. It is also effective for prevention of osteoporosis-related fractures in at risk women but again, only before age 60 or within 10 years after menopause.
- While estrogen alone may decrease the risk of heart disease and death from heart disease in women under age 60 (again within 10 years of menopause), similar evidence for combined hormone replacement in terms of heart disease has been found. It neither prevents or increases the risk of heart disease.
- Vaginal dryness? Try local estrogen and not systemic; it is preferred.
- The risk of stroke increases with MHT; patches may offer lower risk.
Contrary to widespread data, the organizations continue to dispute the connection between breast cancer and MHT, however, they do emphasize that current safety data do not support the use of MHT in breast cancer survivors. Finally? the consensus statement emphasizes that the decision to use MHT is complex and must take certain factors into account, factors such as quality of life, health priorities and personal risk factors. Dose and duration must also be individualized, consistent with goals, and in consideration of safety issues.
If you want to learn more about HRT and its risks/alternatives, I’ve been writing about the issue and the data for almost five years now. You can start perusing the archive of information here. Meanwhile, be smart, be vigilant, ask questions. Don’t accept the idea that a pill or a single solution exists; it probably doesn’t. And mostly? Keep the faith. I’ve got your back. Promise.
*Blaiss MS. Cognitive, social and economic costs of allergic rhinitis. Allergy and Asthma Proc. 2000;21:7-13.
** The American Society for Reproductive Medicine, The Asia Pacific Menopause Federation, The Endocrine Society, The European Menopause and Andropause Society, the International Menopause Society, the International Osteoporosis Foundation and the North American Menopause Society.