Women’s health researchers from around the United States, Canada and Mexico recently gathered for the 2017 Annual Meeting of the North American Menopause Society to discuss and present topics and new treatments concerning menopause and women’s health.
The Women's Health Initiative
Topics and takeaways from the summit included updates on the Women’s Health Initiative, a long-term health study funded by the U.S. Health and Human Services' National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The WHI was established in 1991 to address the top three causes of death, disability and quality-of-life issues for postmenopausal women in the U.S.: cardiovascular disease, cancer and osteoporosis.
The 15-year program observed 161,808 healthy postmenopausal women. Some study participants also participated in clinical trials to test postmenopausal hormone-replacement therapy and dietary changes. Other experiments examined the effects of calcium and vitamin D supplements on heart disease, fractures, breast cancer and colorectal cancer.
Other topics presented included the effect of intravaginal dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, on vaginal dryness.
DHEA is a hormone that occurs naturally in the body. If the body does not produce enough DHEA, the cells of the vagina and how they function are negatively affected.
When DHEA is low, many women experience a condition known as dyspareunia, or pain during sexual intercourse.
Dyspareunia affects 10 percent of women in the U.S.
Researchers found that study participants who took supplemental DHEA had increased vaginal secretions and less pain than women who did not use the hormone.
How Hormone Replacement Can Help
Another key presentation at the summit was on the impact of hormone-replacement therapy on the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Studies conducted during the WHI found that short-term use of hormone therapy did not impact a woman’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, but long-term use of the treatment helped lower the risk of developing the condition.
Researchers also found that the benefits of using hormone-replacement therapy increased if initiated during the peri-menopausal period versus waiting until full-blown menopause to start treatment.
Hormone-replacement therapy is a medical treatment that replaces estrogen lost during menopause.
Research during the WHI also found that hormone-replacement therapy lowered the all-cause mortality rate by 31 percent.
"The findings regarding the benefits of hormone-replacement therapy are significant and may translate into improved health outcomes for women in menopause," said Dr. Mona Alqulali, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., Ph.D.
Alqulali is a Clinton, Iowa, OB-GYN who treats women in the stages of menopause using hormone-replacement therapy.
More About Menopause
"Menopause is not just the time when menstruation stops; the body stops making hormones like estrogen and progesterone that are vital to how the body functions," Alqulali said.
The commonly known side effects of menopause include weight gain, insomnia, fatigue, mood swings, sweating, changes in skin and hair quality, and hot flashes.
Other effects of menopause include osteoporosis, increased cholesterol, heart disease and an elevated risk of breast and other cancer.
"Menopause alone cannot cause these things, but it can contribute to these health conditions in conjunction with genetic and behavioral factors," Alqulali said.
The American Heart Association estimates that one in three women has some form of cardiovascular disease and that many women experience a heart attack in the 10 years after menopause.
"Starting hormone-replacement therapy at or during peri-menopause and carrying the treatment through the post-menopausal period reduces the impact that menopause has on the body and could reduce serious health risks in some individuals," Alqulali said.
Despite the significant benefits of hormone-replacement therapy, researchers at the Annual Meeting of the North American Menopause Society found that the number of women who want the prescription treatment is declining after menopause is complete.
The decrease in using hormone therapy can be attributed to many women choosing to use interventions like yoga and herbal remedies to manage their symptoms.
Hormone-replacement therapy is not a treatment that works for all women, due to certain medical conditions like a previous breast cancer diagnosis or family history of breast cancer.
Healio. Experts list year’s top findings in menopause, women’s health. Healio. 28 October 2017.