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Meet menopause with confidence

Bookmark and Share Once casually referred to as "the change," today's women are commiserating about menopause over coffee, even singing about it on stage. And, just as attitudes about menopause have changed, so have the ways its symptoms are treated.

Bruce J. Levine, MD, Virtua obstetrician and gynecologist, is practical in assessing what women face: "Menopause is a natural process, but when its symptoms interfere with a woman's life or cause her to suffer, treatment may be a reasonable option."

Menopause is clinically defined as one year without a period. While 10 to 15 percent of women do not experience any symptoms of menopause, most women experience symptoms that range from mild to life-disrupting.

Hot flashes and night sweats can lead to sleep disruption and fatigue so severe it affects a woman's ability to work, care for family members or drive. Accompanying vaginal dryness and painful sex can change a woman's physical relationship with her partner and her view of herself.

Hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, provides relief for millions of women who struggle with menopause symptoms, yet even the most intense sufferers question the safety of HRT. And, like her unique symptoms, Dr. Levine says a treatment plan for each woman should be unique.

Weigh the options
"All HRT is not the same," says Dr. Levine. "Today, estrogen and progesterone are available in forms and combinations closer to what women lose in menopause." HRT is administered in different ways as well. Hormonal patches and gels, for example, are local treatments that go directly to the bloodstream, bypassing the intestinal tract and the liver and, therefore, lowering certain cardiovascular risks.

Alternative or complementary treatments such as herbal complexes and soy, and anti-depressants also play a role in the treatment of menopausal symptoms for some women. However, this should be discussed with a physician prior to use.

Start the dialog
"Given the complexities of menopause and the options for treatment available, good communication between a woman and her physician is essential," says Dr. Levine, who works with women to develop an individual risk profile based on her medical history.

While estrogen's role in certain cardiovascular conditions and cancer has been questioned, Dr. Levine cautions against overreacting: "HRT is not a 'one size fits all' solution. It's important to develop a personalized plan that is unique for each woman based on her medical history."

If you're in menopause or think it's fast approaching, take a list of questions to your doctor and discuss your options. Ultimately, your individual profile will help you approach menopause with comfort and confidence - and that's something every woman can sing about.