Medicated menopause treatments are not recommended unless you are experiencing severe symptoms. Your GP is best placed to advise you on the different menopause treatments. 1 in 10 woman in the UK seeks medical advice, practical steps to self-treat are much more common.
Keep cool and avoiding possible triggers such as spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine, smoking or stress will definitely help.
Regular exercise may help improve the most common symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats. Using products such as Physicool’s Cooling Mist has proven to help many suffers treat these symptoms. Pelvic floor exercises can help strengthen your pelvic muscles and improve your bladder control. Experts advise that you should aim to do 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week.
A healthy, balanced diet can help protect your body against some of the long-term effects of the menopause. Because the menopause can cause a loss of calcium in your bones, the foods you eat can help protect you from osteoporosis. Try to include two to three portions of calcium-rich foods in your diet daily.
Vitamin D is important for your bone health. Vitamin D is produced naturally by your body when your skin is exposed to sunlight and can also be obtained from some foods, such as oily fish.
Medicated menopause treatments
Medicated menopause treatment may be recommended if your symptoms are severe and they are interfering with your day-to-day life. There are several treatments prescribed for the menopause:
- hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
- tibolone (similar to HRT)
- vaginal lubricants
The type of menopause treatment suitable for you will depend on your symptoms, medical history and your own preferences. HRT and Tibolone don’t provide contraceptive protection, and although your fertility will decrease during the menopause, it may still be possible for you to conceive.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
HRT is effective in treating many of the most common menopausal symptoms. HRT can also reduce the risk of osteoporosis (weak and brittle bones), and combined HRT (see below) can reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer. HRT works by replacing the female sex hormone, oestrogen, which naturally begins to decrease as the menopause approaches. There are three main types of HRT:
- oestrogen-only HRT – recommended for women who have had their womb and ovaries removed; if oestrogen is taken on its own, it can thicken the womb lining, increasing your risk of cancer
- combined HRT – for women who are experiencing menopausal symptoms but are still having periods (you take both oestrogen and progestogen)
- continuous HRT – for post-menopausal women
A number of side effects are associated with HRT, including weight gain, tender breasts, nausea, headaches and mood changes. You may be able to reduce any side effects by changing the type or dose of HRT that you’re using. Your GP can give you more information about the risks and benefits of HRT.
Tibolone is a man-made hormone that acts in the same way as HRT. It may be recommended as an alternative to combined HRT for post-menopausal women who want to end their periods.
Like HRT, Tibolone is effective in treating menopausal symptoms, such as hot flushes and night sweats, and it can also help prevent spinal fractures. It may also improve sexual problems, such as a decreased sex drive.
Tibolone carries some small risks, including a slight increased risk of breast cancer, womb cancer and stroke. It’s not suitable for women over 60 years of age.
Clonidine is a medicine that was originally designed to treat high blood pressure (hypertension), but it has been found to reduce hot flushes and night sweats in some menopausal women.
Clonidine can cause unpleasant side effects, including dry mouth, drowsiness, depression, constipation and fluid retention.
You will need to take it for a trial period of two to four weeks, to test its effectiveness. If your symptoms don’t improve during this time, or if you experience any side effects, the treatment should be stopped and you should return to your GP.
If you experience vaginal dryness, your GP can prescribe a vaginal lubricant or moisturiser that can be used for as long as you like.
Although antidepressant medications aren’t licensed for treating hot flushes, there are several that may be effective. Potential side effects of these antidepressants include nausea, dizziness, dry mouth, anxiety and sleeping problems.