A major review suggests most women going through menopause aren’t being given appropriate treatment, leaving millions to suffer in silence.
Only 15 percent of women get effective therapies or drugs, and misinformation leads many to explore the route of natural remedies, many of which are unproven, according to the review, which analyzed 70 years worth of over 200 studies.
Only around a third of middle-aged women suffer noticeable menopause; the review said several more go through silent body changes, like loss of bone density, that leave them vulnerable to chronic diseases further down the road.
The study, conducted by researchers in Australia, Italy, and the United States, found that popular treatments like herbal supplements and acupuncture either didn’t work or only slightly improved.
Antidepressants, frequently prescribed for common symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes, may alleviate symptoms but can be accompanied by several side effects that could add to women’s discomfort, including sexual dysfunction, high blood pressure, and nausea.
“The road to menopause is not difficult for all, but for some, symptoms may be severe or even disabling and disruptive to work and family,” wrote the study’s authors.
“Recognition that menopause, for most women, is a natural biological event, does not exempt the use of interventions to alleviate symptoms. Despite decades of research on menopause, more work is needed,” said the authors. “Without effective, evidence-based treatment, the researchers cautioned menopausal women are left vulnerable to long-term ‘silent’ health consequences like bone loss, diabetes, and heart disease.”
The review examined more than 200 sources spanning 71 years to collect current menopause knowledge and data. The reviewers examined the effects of homeopathic remedies and prescription drugs, such as acupuncture and herbal treatments, on common side effects like night sweats and hot flashes.
The researchers found “acupuncture appears no more effective than placebo,” while herbal supplements were found to be inconclusive because improvements were seen in uncontrolled, small studies.
However, cognitive-behavioral therapy boosted sleep and mood and led to minor improvements.
The study also evaluated SSRIs effects used to treat several symptoms of menopause
Additionally, the study, published Wednesday in the journal Cell, evaluated several selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) effects, typically used to treat depression, on reducing night sweats and hot flashes.
Researchers found SSRIs like fluoxetine, paroxetine, and citalopram reduced these symptoms by 25 to 70 percent.
However, patients who took the medications experienced numerous uncomfortable including insomnia, nausea, sexual dysfunction, dry mouth, high blood pressure, headache, dizziness, and constipation.
Based on the findings, the research team called for more individualized treatment approaches instead of recommending the same treatments to every woman.
“Women with bothersome menopausal symptoms should be counseled on treatment options and offered evidence-based therapies,” wrote researchers. “Therapy should be individualized depending on age and health risks, recognizing that health risks may increase with age.”
Menopause is a normal part of aging because the ovaries discontinue producing eggs. As a result, levels of hormones produced by ovaries continue to drop. Menopause also causes women to stop getting their monthly periods.
Almost nine in 10 women experience symptoms of menopause, including changes in mood, sleep disturbances, hot flashes, night sweats, cognitive difficulties, low self-esteem and anxiety, and concentration and memory problems.
Additional signs include bladder problems, sexual issues, and dryness of the vagina.
Symptoms usually arise before menopause officially begins, during a period called perimenopause. Women’s periods become irregular during that time, fertility decreases, and hot flashes start. For some women, this lasts only a few months, but it can stretch from four to eight years for many.
The average onset of menopause in the United States is 51. Women who undergo it between ages 40 and 45 have what doctors refer to as “early menopause.”
After menopause, women enter the period of post-menopause. This is defined as when a woman hasn’t had a period in more than a year, and symptoms like vaginal dryness, hot flashes, and changes in sex drive continue. This lasts for the rest of a woman’s lifetime.
Researchers noted doctors should focus on preventing and treating the “silent” health consequences women in menopause are prone to, including diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis.
“Comprehensive care of postmenopausal women involves lifestyle optimization,” wrote the authors. “This includes optimizing nutrition, avoiding being sedentary and increasing physical activity, adding strength and resistance exercise or training, getting adequate sleep, reducing stress, decreasing alcohol consumption, and avoiding smoking.”
They also suggested that menopause should be characterized by the halting of ovarian function rather than the discontinuation of a menstrual cycle.
This is because some women who aren’t menopausal stop having a menstrual cycle due to certain birth control or procedures like a hysterectomy.
The team argued these approaches could help improve the long-term health of women.
Researchers added, “Optimizing health at menopause is the gateway to healthy aging for women.”