For the 80 percent of women who experience hot flashes during menopause, estrogen treatment can bring significant relief, usually within two weeks. Other symptoms, like vaginal dryness, dry skin and eyes, changes in libido, and sleep problems, may also improve.
But that doesn't mean hormone therapy is right for everyone. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating the symptoms of menopause, and whether and how to take hormones should be a shared decision between a woman and her health care provider.
We talked to Karen Adams, M.D., about what factors you and your provider may consider to determine if hormone therapy is right for you.
How big of a deal are your symptoms?
No one ever died from hot flashes, but no one ever enjoyed them either. Dr. Adams says some patients shrug them off, while others find them very intrusive to daily life. "I saw a woman this morning who couldn't get through a meeting with a client without sweating through her blouse," she says. "Hot flashes can be so embarrassing and uncomfortable."
For other women, painful sex or vaginal dryness may be their biggest concern. Dr. Adams always starts by asking patients how bothered they are by their symptoms, and which ones they struggle with the most.
What really caused that dry skin or insomnia?
"Whether or not hormone therapy helps with a symptom is affected by whether or not the decline in estrogen during menopause caused it," Dr. Adams says. "I work with patients to make sure we know the true cause of their symptoms."
Are you a good candidate for hormone therapy?
There are some things in a woman's health history that may take hormone therapy off the table completely, like a personal history or increased risk of breast cancer, or a personal history of blood clots.
"I also look into a woman's overall health history, risk factors and personal goals," says Dr. Adams.
Hormone therapy is right for me. Now what?
If you do choose to take hormone therapy, discussions with your health care provider shouldn't end there. Treatment options range from patches to pills to vaginal rings, and you should make a shared decision with your provider about which method is best for you.
Dr. Adams advises that women should not only ask their health care provider what they recommend, but why. "Women deserve to have a full discussion about all of their options," she says.
Enjoy the ride
Whether or not hormone therapy is right for you, you don't have to suffer with symptoms of menopause. After all, most women find that menopause happens at a great time of life. You know who you are and what you truly care about.
"Menopause is a great opportunity to look at your health habits and make decisions about how you want to live the second half of your life," says Dr. Adams. "Embrace it. Talk about your situation with your care provider, and make a choice that's right for you."