Every day, around 6,000 women in the U.S. enter menopause. While this is a natural stage of life, it can also be deeply disruptive to your quality of life. You might experience a wide range of symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes, sexual dysfunction, sleep difficulties, and weight gain.
If this does happen to you, you’re not alone—75% of women report feeling some sort of symptom during perimenopause and menopause. The most common symptoms can include:
- Hot flashes (30-85% of women)
- Sexual dysfunction (60% of women)
- Mood changes (45%)
- Sleep disturbances (40%)
- Vaginal dryness (33%)
While symptoms do go away on their own eventually, leaving them untreated can extend the duration up to 15 years. That’s a long time to feel symptoms that can be highly intense and uncomfortable.
The good news is that there are safe and effective treatments available. So why is it that nearly 75% of women never receive treatment? In a recent survey, 94% of women reported that they don’t get enough support managing the side effects of menopause.
These shocking statistics impact more than just quality of life. Menopausal women face a huge financial burden, too. One 12-month research study found that menopausal women experiencing hot flashes visited their doctors 1.5 million more times than those without.
At Honeybee, we believe you shouldn’t have to suffer in silence, and you shouldn’t have to suffer alone. Below, our pharmacists break down exactly what menopause is and what your treatment options are.
What is menopause exactly?
Menopause (also known as “the change of life”) refers to the period when the female body stops menstruating. This occurs because of lowered levels of the hormone levels estrogen and progesterone. You officially enter menopause once you have not had a period for a full year. The period leading up to that is called “perimenopause,” which is when most women experience symptoms. Once you enter menopause and officially stop menstruating, you then are considered “postmenopausal.” You can see the breakdown in the infographic below:
The average age for menopause, which is diagnosed after 12 months without a period, is 51 in the U.S. Only about 5% of U.S. women experience menopause between 40 and 45. Sometimes, thyroid levels are checked as well since hypothyroidism can cause similar symptoms to menopause.
What are my treatment options?
The good news is that there are plenty of safe and effective treatment options available to help manage any symptoms you might be experiencing. In terms of prescription medications, the most common option is hormone therapy, which refers to medications containing estrogen, progesterone, or a combination. These come in a variety of forms, including as tablets, vaginal inserts, patches, rings, and creams.
Hormone therapy is most effective when started right when your symptoms begin, especially for hot flashes, preventing osteoporosis, and relieving dryness, urinary problems, and discomfort during sex. While considered safe for short-term use, there are serious risks associated with long-term use of hormone therapy. An increased risk for breast cancer is most commonly associated with hormone therapy, but it has also been linked to higher incidences of stroke and blood clots.
Other treatment options include low-dose antidepressants such as paroxetine, citalopram, and escitalopram, all of which can help relieve changes in mood in addition to managing hot flashes. Clonidine, a high blood pressure medication, and Gabapentin, an anti-seizure medication, might be prescribed for hot flashes as well.
There are certain drugs that can help prevent and treat osteoporosis, a common concern for menopausal and postmenopausal women. These include alendronate, risedronate, ibandronate, and raloxifene in addition to calcium and vitamin D supplements.
Lastly, many women use a combination of prescription and nonprescription or over-the-counter products, including lubricants and supplements such as Black Cohosh and Ashwagandha.
Ultimately, it is best to consult with a pharmacist to find the best fit for you. Just remember that you are not suffering alone, and these symptoms can be managed with the right treatment options.