Without hormones, menopause symptoms return

Many women who stop taking hormone replacement therapy experience a recurrence of menopausal symptoms, but tapering off the drugs or drinking fluids may ease their suffering, a new survey has found.

The hot flashes, mood swings and stiffness associated with menopause recurred in 55 percent of the women who stopped taking hormone replacement therapy in a large trial. Another 21 percent of women taking a placebo reported their symptoms returned.

The Women’s Health Initiative trial was halted prematurely in 2002 when researchers discovered the therapy increased women’s risks of breast cancer, Heart disease and Stroke.

Many women in the study who had been taking hormones abruptly stopped taking them, offering researchers a first-time look at how coming off therapy affected women’s health.

Younger women taking hormones, usually a combination of estrogen and progestin, were more likely to have symptoms recur than older women, said the study by University of Massachusetts researcher Dr. Judith Ockene.

Since the study’s findings became known, women who still want hormones to relieve their symptoms are counseled to take the drugs at the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time, according to the report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Now women are learning that their symptoms might return, even after using these hormones for more than five years,” said Sherry Sherman of the Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology Program at the National Institute on Aging.

An estimated 2 million American women go through menopause each year.

Four out of five women in the study found some relief from symptoms by using other methods like drinking lots of fluids, the report said.

Another approach might be to wean patients off hormone therapy.

“When it is time to consider discontinuing hormone therapy, gradual tapering off the dose would be a logical clinical strategy arising from these new observations,” Dr. Diana Petitti of Kaiser Permanente Southern California wrote in an accompanying editorial in the journal.

Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: July 8, 2011
Last revised: by David A. Scott, M.D.