It has been over 12 years since the Women’s Health Initiative study and many women remain concerned about taking hormone therapy and want to know when their hot flashes (Vasomotor symptoms – VMS) are going to stop. Until this year, 2015, it has been difficult to give patients definitive answers. This is because VMS (hot flashes) can vary in intensity, frequency, and can be perceived differently by different women.
The best information available indicates that somewhere between 50-75% of women have VMS in menopause (defined as greater than one year of no periods in a woman who has no other hormonal abnormalities). Of this percentage of women, over 50% describe their VMS (hot flashes) as being very disruptive. Until now it has been estimated that VMS on an average will last 6 months to 3 years. For most women the symptoms may be tolerable, but what about the patient who has frequent, very disruptive VMS? Because of a well-defined study published in JAMA (Journal of American Medicine) by the University of Massachusetts Division of Behavioral Sciences we now have a clearer idea of what a patient who has frequent VMS can expect. The study observed over 1400 women who had frequent VMS, defined as daily episodes of VMS for more than six days in any two week period. These are the interesting findings:
1) More than 50% of these patients experienced frequent VMS for more than 7 years and some of them continued for more than 11 years.
2) In women who experienced VMS in the peri-menopausal years (years leading up to menopause while still having periods) their VMS tended to last longer into menopause.
3) Women who experienced more anxiety and/or stress tended to experience frequent VMS for longer periods of time as well.
This information is most helpful because it is the patient who has frequent, disruptive VMS who really needs help. It is important for this patient to consult with her gynecologist regarding proper therapy, Overall health, age, and medical conditions all play a role in determining proper therapy.