Menopause is a normal part of a woman's life, and as such requires no treatment. However, the symptoms a menopausal woman suffers may range from mild to debilitating. These symptoms may require some form of treatment.
Up until recently, hormone replacement therapy, in particular estrogen replacement therapy, was the cornerstone of menopause treatment. Estrogen reduces symptoms such as hot flashes, helps maintain bone strength to delay the onset of osteoporosis, and can reduce urinary incontinence. Sufficient estrogen levels in the body are also needed to keep cholesterol levels lower. However, despite these beneficial effects, recent research has shown that long-term hormone replacement therapy may actually be harmful, increasing the chance of serious complications such as heart attacks, strokes, certain types of breast cancer, dementia and gallstones.
Revised US Food and Drug Administration guidelines recommend that most women receive only short-term hormone replacement therapy. This short-term therapy is usually beneficial in reducing symptoms, without the attendant health risks long-term therapy poses. Only women who are considered to be at high risk for osteoporosis, a disease in which the bones become progressively weaker, may benefit from long-term hormone replacement therapy. Before starting any hormone replacement therapy, a woman should have a breast examination, and if thought necessary by her physician, a mammogram to rule out breast cancer.
Women with osteoporosis may be prescribed drugs such as biphosphonates to reduce bone loss. There are also a number of lifestyle changes a woman can make that may greatly improve her symptoms. These include stopping smoking, controlling alcohol intake, getting regular exercise, and eating a healthy diet, which become especially important as a woman gets older. These changes help maintain weight and reduce the risk of heart disease. Soy products are rich in plant estrogens, and are reported to reduce the intensity of hot flashes. Menopausal women have tried various forms of meditation with varying levels of success.
Although hormone replacement therapy is effective against distressing symptoms of menopause, recent research shows that it has serious side-effects. Therefore, alternative menopausal therapies are being developed, including new drugs to fight osteoporosis, changes in diet and lifestyle, and meditation.