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Hormone Therapies Still ‘Most Effective’ in Treating Menopausal Vasomotor Symptoms

Despite new options in non–hormone-based treatments, hormone therapy remains the most effective treatment for vasomotor symptoms (VMS) and should be considered for healthy menopausal women without contraindications within 10 years of their final menstrual periods.

This recommendation emerged from an updated position statement from the North American Menopause Society in its first review of the scientific literature since 2015. The statement specifically targets nonhormonal management of symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats, which occur in as many as 80% of menopausal women but are undertreated. The statement appears in the June issue of the Journal of The North American Menopause Society.

“Women with contraindications or objections to hormone treatment should be informed by professionals of evidence-based effective nonhormone treatment options,” stated a NAMS advisory panel led by Chrisandra L. Shufelt, MD, MS, professor and chair of the division of general internal medicine and associate director of the Women’s Health Research Center at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla. The statement is one of multiple NAMS updates performed at regular intervals, said Dr. Shufelt, also past president of NAMS, in an interview. “But the research has changed, and we wanted to make clinicians aware of new medications. One of our interesting findings was more evidence that off-label use of the nonhormonal overactive bladder drug oxybutynin can lower the rate of hot flashes.”

Dr. Shufelt noted that many of the current update’s findings align with previous research, and stressed that the therapeutic recommendations apply specifically to VMS. “Not all menopause-related symptoms are vasomotor, however,” she said. “While a lot of the lifestyle options such as cooling techniques and exercise are not recommended for controlling hot flashes, diet and exercise changes can be beneficial for other health reasons.”

Although it’s the most effective option for VMS, hormone therapy is not suitable for women with contraindications such as a previous blood clot, an estrogen-dependent cancer, a family history of such cancers, or a personal preference against hormone use, Dr. Shufelt added, so nonhormonal alternatives are important to prevent women from wasting time and money on ineffective remedies. “Women need to know what works and what doesn’t,” she said.

Recommended nonhormonal therapies

Based on a rigorous review of the scientific evidence to date, NAMS found the following therapies to be effective: cognitive-behavioral therapy; clinical hypnosis; SSRIs and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors – which yield mild to moderate improvements; gabapentin – which lessens the frequency and severity of hot flashes; fezolinetant (Veozah), a novel first-in-class neurokinin B antagonist that was Food and Drug Administration–approved in May for VSM; and oxybutynin, an antimuscarinic, anticholinergic drug, that reduces moderate to severe VMS, although long-term use in older adults may be linked to cognitive decline, weight loss, and stellate ganglion block.

Therapies that were ineffective, associated with adverse effects (AEs), or lacking adequate evidence of efficacy and thus not recommended for VMS included: paced respiration; supplemental and herbal remedies such as black cohosh, milk thistle, and evening primrose; cooling techniques; trigger avoidance; exercise and yoga; mindfulness-based intervention and relaxation; suvorexant, a dual orexin-receptor antagonist used for insomnia; soy foods, extracts, and the soy metabolite equol; cannabinoids; acupuncture; calibration of neural oscillations; chiropractics; clonidine, an alpha-2 adrenergic agonist that is associated with significant AEs with no recent evidence of benefit over placebo; dietary modification; and pregabalin – which is associated with significant AEs and has controlled-substance prescribing restrictions.

Ultimately, clinicians should individualize menopause care to each patient. For example, “if a patient says that avoiding caffeine in the morning stops her from having hot flashes in the afternoon, that’s fine,” Dr. Shufelt said.

HT still most effective

“This statement is excellent, comprehensive, and evidence-based,” commented Jill M. Rabin MD, vice chair of education and development, obstetrics and gynecology, at Northshore University Hospital/LIJ Medical Center in Manhasset, N.Y., and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

Dr. Rabin, coauthor of Mind Over Bladder was not involved in compiling the statement.

She agreed that hormone therapy is the most effective option for VMS and regularly prescribes it for suitable candidates in different forms depending on the type and severity of menopausal symptoms. As for nonhormonal options, Dr. Rabin added in an interview, some of those not recommended in the current NAMS statement could yet prove to be effective as more data accumulate. Suvorexant may be one to watch, for instance, but currently there are not enough data on its effectiveness.

“It’s really important to keep up on this nonhormonal research,” Dr. Rabin said. “As the population ages, more and more women will be in the peri- and postmenopausal periods and some have medical reasons for not taking hormone therapy.” It’s important to recommend nonhormonal therapies of proven benefit according to current high-level evidence, she said, “but also to keep your ear to the ground about those still under investigation.”

As for the lifestyle and alternative remedies of unproven benefit, Dr. Rabin added, there’s little harm in trying them. “As far as I know, no one’s ever died of relaxation and paced breathing.” In addition, a patient’s interaction with and sense of control over her own physiology provided by these techniques may be beneficial in themselves.

Dr. Shufelt reported grant support from the National Institutes of Health. Numerous authors reported consulting fees from and other financial ties to private-sector companies. Dr. Rabin had no relevant competing interests to disclose with regard to her comments.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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