As most women approach mid-life, hormone function declines and the ovaries produce fewer and fewer egg cells until production finally ceases altogether, eventually leading to menopause. Research shows that around 80% to 85% of women complain of menopausal symptoms, a topic on which Professor Bettina Toth, Park Igls consultant and Director of the University Clinic for Gynaecological Endocrinology and Reproductive Medicine in Innsbruck, is an expert. ‘On average, [menopause occurs] between the ages of 50 and 52. Early symptoms can appear in the transition phase (or perimenopause), as early as two to three years before the actual menopause. I have also had patients with premature ovarian failure (which affects about 1% to 2% of women) who were menopausal as young as 17.’ Professor Toth’s clinic is point of contact for women in all stages of life, from puberty to menopause and beyond, and focuses on hormone diagnostics and therapy. Their aim is to support women through the menopause as much as possible with the best treatment options for them.
Thorough consultation is required to determine the severity of a patient’s symptoms and an appropriate treatment plan. ‘If a woman is still working and is experiencing extreme lethargy or difficulty sleeping to the point that she has difficulty doing her job, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is recommended. That can turn things around within a few days,’ Professor Toth advises. But many women are sceptical of hormone drugs because of their possible side effects such as a slightly increased risk of breast cancer. While it is wise to be cautious, particularly if there is already a family history of breast cancer, Professor Toth concludes that there are many other serious factors at play – such as obesity – that pose a higher risk. The use of HRT remains an area of debate among women, but most experts agree that the benefits outweigh the risks.
Park Igls Medical Director Dr Peter Gartner also joined the conversation to introduce the Modern Mayr Medicine perspective when it comes to dealing with menopause. Mayr physicians have been aware of the hormone-regulating effect of Mayr therapy for many years, and advocate a holistic approach of nutrition, exercise and regeneration to combat some of the symptoms of menopause. Phytotherapy is another treatment option, as explained by Park Igls physician Dr Sonja Schottkowsky: ‘Phytoestrogens are effective plant-based medicines that have minimal side effects. One is black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) which is used in drop or tablet form. For perimenopausal symptoms, I recommend red clover supplements which are available over the counter. But I also advise all women with clear gynaecological complaints to visit their gynaecologist.’ One thing the experts all agree on is that lifestyle plays an important role in combatting symptoms: exercise and a balanced diet are an excellent starting point to bringing hormones back into balance.
In some cases, there may be underlying causes for the range of symptoms commonly attributed to menopause that are entirely unrelated and entirely treatable. Professor Toth specifies: ‘For instance, thyroid problems can cause similar issues with fatigue and exhaustion. And new research shows that female patients who are not diabetic but do have increased insulin resistance suffer more hot flushes. Adjusting sugar intake will eradicate these symptoms. So, gynaecologists are the first, but not necessarily the only, point of contact when it comes to menopausal symptoms.’ It is also proven that smoking damages ovary function and therefore hormone production, and that excessive coffee and alcohol consumption have a negative effect on general health, and therefore small lifestyle changes can make a big difference to a woman’s health during menopause.
Photocredits: Pixabay, Freepik