The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) has issued a new position statement related to recommendations for hormone therapy (HT) use in women. This topic has been debated intensely over the last decade since the publication of the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) research that was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Following this research, many women were instructed by their physician to stop taking their hormone therapy medication due to the increased risk of cardiovascular events. For more information about the background of the WHI, please click here.
This information is particularly relevant for the pelvic rehabilitation provider as many women in their perimenopausal years will experience pelvic symptoms related to a decline in hormone levels. The updated NAMS guidelines state that estrogen therapy (ET) is "...the most effective treatment of moderate to severe symptoms of vulvar and vaginal atrophy..." that may include vaginal dryness, pain with penetration, and atrophic vaginitis. Although the guidelines do not recommended hormone therapy for improving libido, use of local estrogen therapy may contribute to improvement in sexual function through improved lubrication, increased blood flow and increased sensation to vaginal tissues. Local estrogen has also been demonstrated to help some women who have overactive bladder or urinary tract infections, however, systemic hormone therapy may worsen symptoms of stress incontinence.
There are other important women's health topics in this position statement including potential benefits of hormone therapy for women who have or who are at risk for osteoporosis. The authors conclude that in healthy women ages 50-59 years old the absolute risks of HT are low. Older women who initiate use of HT or who use long-term HT are at higher risk for adverse effects. Successful implementation of hormone therapy for women depends on the route of administration, formulation of the hormones, and timing of the therapy. "Constructing an individual benefit-risk profile is essential..." when creating a plan of care for women according to the authors.
Unless it is within your scope of practice to prescribe medications such as hormones, the above choices will be made through patient discussions with the appropriate medical provider. We can alert a physician or medical provider if there is concern about the vaginal tissue health of a woman presenting to the clinic. We can also direct patients to these new guidelines developed by the NAMS group. It is helpful to note that many women do not have a medical provider who is actively managing her hormone issues, and simply asking her about HT can lead her to communicate more effectively with her medical providers.