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A low-dose menopause treatment is safe and effective, study finds

Sept. 14, 2017—Using vaginal estrogen is a safe and effective way to treat the sexual and urinary complaints that may accompany menopause, according to a new study.

The findings are good news for the 20 to 45 percent of women who have menopause symptoms like dryness, burning, and pain during sex or urination.

Hormone therapy: The bad and the good

Some types of hormone therapy come with serious side effects. Past studies have suggested that certain combined or estrogen-only therapies could increase the chance for stroke and some cancers.

The new study involved more than 45,000 postmenopausal women. It found that vaginal estrogen therapy didn't carry these risks and, in fact, could even come with some benefits.

Among the study's findings:

  • Women who used vaginal estrogen were at no higher risk for serious health problems than those who didn't use it. These problems included stroke, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, endometrial cancer and pulmonary embolism.
  • Women who used the therapy had a 48 percent lower risk for heart disease and a 60 percent lower risk for hip fractures compared with nonusers.

The authors said that the findings should help reassure women that vaginal estrogen can relieve some menopause symptoms—without any major health risks.

There is one downside, though: This therapy only eases vaginal and urinary symptoms, which means it won't help with hot flashes.

The study appears in Menopause, the Journal of the North American Menopause Society.

A lower dose of hormones

So what makes vaginal estrogen therapy a potentially safer choice than taking estrogen as a pill? The lower dose lessens the risk of health problems that may occur with higher doses. And in general, hormone therapy not taken by mouth—such as patches, sprays and rings—also raises the risk of certain health problems less than pills do, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Although the results of this study are promising, estrogen-only therapy may still carry risks. These risks include an increased likelihood of uterine cancer in women. To lessen that risk, estrogen is usually used with progestin—that's called combined hormone therapy. This approach carries its own risks as well.

Talk with your doctor if you're not sure which type of hormone therapy may be right for you. You'll be able to weigh your options and figure out the best treatment for your symptoms.

More help for menopause

Hormone therapy isn't the only tool to manage your symptoms. There are other ways to find relief. Take a look at some of the options.

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