|Low-dose hormone therapy is still an option for treatment of the most severe menopause symptoms.
Until a few years ago, most women going through menopause were prescribed hormone therapy to minimize symptoms like hot flashes and mood swings. But then the national Women’s Health Initiative study — which was partially conducted at the DMC — revealed that hormone therapy actually increases women’s risk of many deadly diseases and dementia.
While low-dose hormone therapy is still used to treat the most severe symptoms of menopause, it is not as routinely prescribed as it once was.
"We used to call it hormone replacement therapy, but now we just call it hormone therapy because menopause is a natural part of a woman’s life and the hormones don’t really need to be replaced," said Susan Hendrix, D.O., a DMC Women’s Health Services menopause specialist.
Dr. Hendrix was one of the primary investigators of the Women’s Health Initiative study that found hormone therapy can increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer, heart disease, blood clots and stroke. Based on the research, she now advises women to try healthy lifestyle changes to minimize and manage their symptoms of menopause. But, if the symptoms are still too severe to manage, she said women and their physicians can consider low-dose hormone therapy for a short period of time.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:
- Hormones should only be used to relieve moderate to severe menopause symptoms
- Women should take the lowest dose, for the shortest period of time
- Women should have annual breast exams performed by a health care provider, periodic mammograms and monthly self-exams
"Low-dose hormone therapy for a short period of time is still an option for some women with very severe symptoms," Dr. Hendrix said. "But given what we now know about the risks of hormone therapy, I usually advise women to try healthy lifestyle changes to minimize and manage their symptoms first."
Managing the Symptoms of Menopause
Dr. Hendrix’s tips for managing the symptoms of menopause include:
Dress in light clothes and layers to be prepared for hot flashes. Avoid turtle necks and heavy sweaters. Instead, try wearing a jacket over a short sleeve shirt so you can easily adjust what you’re wearing when you feel a hot flash coming on.
- Try not to focus on your hot flashes. Take a deep breath and try to relax. If you allow yourself to get overly worked up over your symptoms, they will likely seem even worse.
- Recognize that the mood swings associated with menopause may have other sources as well. Hormone changes during menopause can certainly cause mood swings, but life circumstances that tend to happen during the menopause years can also cause mood swings, stress and depression. Talk to you doctor about all the stresses and changes in your life — your children leaving the house, becoming a caregiver to your elderly parents, changes in your relationships with friends and spouses — not just the physical changes associated with menopause.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Many women have difficulty sleeping during menopause. It’s a serious problem which can make you irritable and can increase the severity of your other menopause symptoms. Dr. Hendrix stresses the importance of getting a good night’s sleep as a way of managing the symptoms of menopause. When appropriate, she prescribes prescription sleep aids.
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Hendrix or another menopause expert at DMC Women’s Health Services, call 1-888-DMC-2500.
Facts About Menopause
A woman has reached menopause when she has not had a period for 12 months in a row.
During menopause a woman’s body slowly makes less of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. This often happens between the ages of 45 and 55 years old. The average age of menopause in the United States is 51.
Perimenopause, which is sometimes called "the menopausal transition," is the time leading up to a woman's last period. After menopause, a woman is in postmenopause, which lasts the rest of her life.
Smoking can speed up menopause by one or two years.
Common symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, sleep problems, mood swings and decreased sexual desire.
Once widely prescribed to treat the symptoms of menopause, hormone therapy should only be used to relieve moderate to severe menopause symptoms. Women should take the lowest dose for the shortest period of time and should have annual breast exams, periodic mammograms and monthly self-exams.
Dr. Susan Hendrix of DMC Women’s Health Services was one of the primary investigators of the Women’s Health Initiative study that found hormone therapy can increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer, heart disease, blood clots and stroke.
Many symptoms of menopause can be managed and minimized through healthy lifestyle changes.
Susan Hendrix, DO
Susan Hendrix, DO
Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Dr. Hendrix is board certified in obstetrics and gynecology. Her clinical interests include: menopause; gynecology procedures; urogynecology; and the Essure birth control procedure. Dr. Hendrix is a nationally known authority on menopause. She was a primary investigator on the national Women's Health Initiative, the study that found hormone therapy can actually increase women's risk of breast cancer, heart disease, blood clots and stroke. She is also the author of a Chicken Soup for the Soul book on Menopause published in Spring 2005. Dr. Hendrix currently serves as Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Education: Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Philadelphia, Penn., 1979-80
Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, East Lansing, Mich., M.D., 1980-83
Residency: Lansing OB/GYN Residency Program, Sparrow Hospital, Lansing, Mich., (Obstetrics and Gynecology) 1984-88
Fellowships: Wayne State University/Hutzel Women's Hospital, Detroit, Mich., (Maternal Fetal Medicine) 1998-2001
Related DMC Services
DMC Hutzel Women’s Hospital Menopause Services
DMC Sinai Grace Hospital Gynecology Services