The Latest News on Hormone Therapy, Hot Flashes & More From the Nation’s Leading Menopause Conference

I just returned from the annual conference of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), whose membership is comprised of clinical and science experts, including physicians, researchers, and nurses — who focus almost exclusively on women’s health in midlife. Most of those in attendance were gynecologists in private practice eager to hear the latest research findings on issues such as hormone safety, osteoporosis prevention, heart health and more. It was also an opportunity for these docs, who are on the front line of menopause management, to compare notes with their colleagues and seek advice on complex patient cases, such as those involving obesity, diabetes, and cancer.

During three days of the conference, I attended numerous presentations, roundtable discussions, and I talked individually with many physicians and researchers. I filled a notebook with information that I’ll share with you over the next several weeks. In this blogpost, I’ll preview just a few topics that I think you’ll find helpful.

HOT FLASHES - Gabapentin-ER (Extended release) is being studied as a potential, new treatment for hot flashes for women who can’t or don’t want to use Estrogen therapy, which remains the most effective remedy available now. In a six-month study of 600 women who were experiencing an average of 11 hot flashes daily, half of them were given Gabapentin-ER and the others were given a placebo. The Gabentin-ER users reported fewer and/or less bothersome hot flashes and they slept better too. The drug is under FDA review and could potentially be available for use by the end of 2013.  (The Gabentin that you see in the stores is the short-acting form of this drug and is not approved for hot flashes.)

I also learned the results of the recent, NIH-funded MS Flash randomized clinical trials, that investigated the effects of three approaches for treating hot flashes: aerobic exercise, Yoga and Omega 3 supplements. Contrary to what we’ve been reading in mass media in recent years, these studies demonstrated that none of these purported remedies helped with hot flashes. But the good news is that both exercise and yoga showed “really nice results” for sleep and depression, according to Andrea LaCroix, Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator. Stay tuned for more details about these topics.

VAGINAL DRYNESS- AKA vaginal atrophy, AKA vaginal aging. Whatever you call it, this “silent symptom” of menopause is causing more than half of all post-menopausal women to abstain from sexual intimacy, according to a recent study of more than 8,000 women and their partners. The study also revealed that most mid-life women are suffering needlessly from vaginal dryness because they are too embarrassed to discuss it with their physician (and often physicians are just as shy to bring it up). But there are safe and effective remedies available now. I’ll be covering this topic and summarizing the findings of this interesting study later this week in a separate blogpost.

HORMONE THERAPY – Which form of estrogen provides the most benefits with the fewest harms? A low-dose estrogen pill, made with horse estrogen? Or Estradiol, a natural estrogen made from plants, delivered through the skin using a patch? Researchers from the Kronos Early Estrogen Prevention (KEEPS) study followed more than 700 healthy women, aged 42-59 for four years to evaluate the harms vs. benefits of hormone therapy (HT) vs. placebo and they announced their preliminary findings at the NAMS conference before a packed house. The findings suggest that HT, started within three years of the onset of menopause, eased menopause symptoms such as depression, anxiety and hot flashes, without adverse effects on cognition. Significantly, there was no increase in breast cancer, stroke, heart attack or blood clots. But the study’s investigators cautioned that it was premature to draw firm conclusions. I will be explaining more about this study in the next few weeks.

Of course, these findings are only a sliver of what I learned at this important annual conference, so look for more reports in the coming weeks. To receive email alerts when these posts are published, just subscribe to this blog in the “stay connected” box at the top of this page.