Not all women need treatment to relieve symptoms of menopause. But treatments are available if you find the symptoms particularly difficult.
The main treatment for menopausal symptoms is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). There are other treatments available depending on what symptoms you have.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
HRT replaces hormones that are at a low level in your body around the time of menopause. This can help many of the symptoms.
HRT is available as tablets, skin patches, a gel to rub into the skin, or a spray.
There are 2 main types of HRT: combined HRT and oestrogen-only HRT.
Combined HRT (oestrogen and progestogen)
This is for women with menopausal symptoms who still have their womb. Taking oestrogen on its own can increase your risk of womb cancer. But the progesterone will protect your womb.
This is for women who have had their womb removed in a hysterectomy
Hot flushes and night sweats
If you experience hot flushes and night sweats as a result of menopause, there are things that may help.
- wearing light clothing
- keeping your bedroom cool at night
- taking a cold shower
- using a fan
- having a cold drink
- trying to reduce your stress levels
- avoiding potential triggers, such as spicy food, caffeine, smoking and alcohol
- taking regular exercise and losing weight if you're overweight
If the hot flushes and sweats are severe or happening very often, your GP may suggest taking HRT.
These medications can cause unpleasant side effects. Discuss the risks and benefits with your GP before starting treatment.
Some women experience mood swings, low mood and anxiety around the time of menopause.
Rest, regular exercise and relaxing activities such as yoga may help. Other treatments are also available, including HRT and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
CBT is a type of talking therapy that can improve low mood and feelings of anxiety.
Antidepressants may help if you've been diagnosed with depression.
Reduced sexual desire
It's common for women to lose interest in sex around the time of menopause, but HRT can often help with this. If HRT is not effective, you might be offered a testosterone supplement.
Testosterone is the male sex hormone, but it can help to restore sex drive in menopausal women. It’s not currently licensed for use in women, but it can be prescribed by a doctor if they think it might help.
Possible side effects of testosterone supplements include acne and unwanted hair growth.
Vaginal dryness and discomfort
If menopause causes your vagina to become dry, painful or itchy, your GP may prescribe oestrogen treatment. This can be used as a pessary or cream. You can also use this together with HRT.
You'll usually need to use vaginal oestrogen for the rest of your life. This is because your symptoms are likely to return when treatment stops. But side effects are very rare.
You can also use over-the-counter vaginal moisturisers or lubricants.
Women who have been through menopause are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis (weak bones). This is because of the lower level of oestrogen in the body.
You can reduce your chances of developing osteoporosis by:
- taking HRT – HRT can help to prevent osteoporosis, but this effect does not last after treatment stops
- exercising regularly
- eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruit, vegetables and sources of calcium, such as low-fat milk and yoghurt
- getting some sunlight – sunlight on your skin triggers the production of vitamin D, which can help to keep your bones strong
- stopping smoking and cutting down on alcohol
- taking calcium and vitamin D supplements – discuss this with your GP if you do not feel you're getting enough of these
You'll need to return to your GP for a follow-up review of your treatment after 3 months, and once a year after that.
During your reviews, your GP may:
- make sure your symptoms are under control
- ask about any side effects and bleeding patterns
- check your weight and blood pressure
- review the type of HRT you're taking and make any necessary changes
- discuss when you could stop treatment and how this could be done
Many women need treatment for a few years, until most of their menopausal symptoms have passed.