Menopause and Its Treatment

Menopause or "change of life" is the permanent end to menstruation and fertility caused by the change in the levels of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. This typically occurs in a woman's late 40s or early 50s but may occur earlier.

The time of change is called perimenopause or menopausal transition. It can begin several years before the last menstrual period and last for 1 year after the final menstrual cycle. After this period, a woman is said to have been "through menopause" and into postmenopause, which lasts the rest of her life. Menopause is different for each woman. The signs and symptoms may vary greatly. Some women may have hot flashes and sleep problems while others may hardly be aware of a change at all. In addition to hot flashes and sleep problems, women many also experience mood changes, problems with the vagina and bladder, and changes in sex drive. A woman's body may also change. Her waist could get larger. She could lose muscle and gain fat. Her skin could get thinner. She might have memory problems, and her joints and muscles could feel stiff and achy. Are these a result of having less estrogen or just related to growing older? Experts are not sure. Furthermore, osteoporosis and heart disease are two common health problems associated with menopause and aging.

Menopause is not a disease that has to be treated. But if the signs and symptoms are uncomfortable, then here are some ideas that have helped women:

  • Keep track of when hot flashes happen—a diary can help. This information can be used to find out what triggers flashes and then avoid those triggers.
  • Going somewhere cool when a hot flash starts.
  • Sleep in a cool room or with a fan on.
  • Dress in layers that can be removed.
  • Use sheets and clothing that let the skin “breathe.”
  • Have a cold drink (water or juice) when a flash is starting.

Western Treatments for Menopause

During perimenopause, some doctors suggest birth synthetic hormone pills to help with very heavy, frequent, or unpredictable menstrual periods. These pills might also help with symptoms like hot flashes, as well as prevent pregnancy. If a woman is bothered by symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, or vaginal dryness, her doctor might suggest taking synthetic estrogen (as well as progesterone, if she still has a uterus). This is known as menopausal hormone therapy (MHT). Some people still call it hormone replacement therapy or HRT. Taking these hormones may help with menopause symptoms. It may also prevent the bone loss that can happen at menopause. Menopausal hormone therapy also has risks of breast, ovarian and uterine cancer. That is why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration suggests that women who want to try MHT to manage their hot flashes or vaginal dryness use the lowest dose that works for the shortest time needed. The symptoms may come back when hormones are discontinued.

The Treatment of Menopause in
Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine can be an effective adjunct or even alternative therapy for menopause. Numerous studies including a recent study conducted by Henry Ford Hospital in Michigan have shown acupuncture to be a safe, effective and durable treatment for hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms stemming from anti-estrogen hormone therapy in women with breast cancer. Furthermore, acupuncture is effective at boosting the sex drive and overall sense of well-being in women.