While many women have mild to moderate symptoms during the menopause transition, around a quarter to a third have hot flushes and night sweats that affect their quality of life. Post menopause symptoms can also last longer than you might expect.
It is generally believed that symptoms of the menopause last for two to five years but research is continually providing evidence that some women are still suffering from hot flushes and night sweats up to ten years later.
Research from the University of Pennsylvania found that, on average, women experience hot flushes for five years. However, a third of the 255 women who took part in the research continued to experience symptoms for as long as 10 years.
In 2011 Researchers from King’s College, London, studied over 10,000 post menopausal women between the ages of 54 and 65. Over half reported continued hot flushes and night sweats, with some women still experiencing them up to 10 years after their last period.
The study also found that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) reduced the likelihood of symptoms but the treatment is usually only offered for five years because prolonged use has been linked to an increased risk of health problems, which include breast lumps, cysts, cancer and stroke.
Professor Myra Hunter explains: “Our study looked at a large number of post-menopausal women and we were surprised to find that menopausal symptoms persisted in over half of the women. They were still having hot flushes on average ten years after their last period.
“Health professionals need to be aware that women can still have hot flushes and night sweats in their late 50s and 60s. There is a need for effective non-hormonal treatments for those who have problematic hot flushes and night sweats, and for women who have a recurrence of hot flushes after they stop taking hormone therapy.”
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So what can you do if you are still suffering post-menopausal symptoms but are worried about prolonging your use of HRT?
There are a range of non-hormone alternatives that have been linked to a reduction in menopause symptoms:
There are a few small practical things that you can do to alleviate hot flushes, such as wearing lighter clothing, sleeping in a cooler room, and avoiding spicy foods and caffeine. Alcohol and smoking have also been linked to hot flushes, so you might want to reduce or avoid these. Exercise generally improves mood and wellbeing.
Regular aerobic exercise is thought to lead to an improvement in symptoms.
Some classes of antidepressant have been found to reduce menopause symptoms. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are often used to provide relief from hot flushes. However, the effects do not work for everyone and the drugs may also cause side effects, such as nausea and a reduced libido.
There are many alternative or complementary treatments that are thought to relieve menopausal symptoms, such as evening primrose oil, black cohosh, ginseng, soy and red clover.
There is very little evidence that these remedies are effective and they are not regulated, so the quality of the products varies. Some treatments may not be compatible with existing medication, for example some species of red clover should not be taken by women who have been prescribed anticoagulants.
Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) do not recommend the use of complementary therapies for the treatment of menopause symptoms. However, there is evidence that cognitive behaviour therapy can help women to reduce the impact of menopausal symptoms. Fact sheets on CBT for women are available on the Women’s Health Concern website.
The best advice is to speak to your GP or health professional about the options available to you. Don’t suffer in silence!
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