Objective: To provide health care providers, patients, and the general public with a responsible assessment of currently available data on the management of menopause-related symptoms.
Participants: A non-DHHS, nonadvocate 12-member panel representing the fields of obstetrics and gynecology, general internal medicine, endocrinology, rheumatology, family and health psychology, geriatric medicine, health services research, demography, biochemistry, epidemiology, clinical research, and biostatistics. In addition, 26 experts in fields related to the conference topic presented data to the panel and to the conference audience.
Evidence: Presentations by experts and a systematic review of the medical literature prepared by the Oregon Evidence-based Practice Center, through the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's Evidence-based Practice Centers Program. Scientific evidence was given precedence over clinical anecdotal experience.
Conference process: Answering pre-determined questions, the panel drafted its statement based on scientific evidence presented in open forum and on the published scientific literature. The draft statement was read in its entirety on the final day of the conference and circulated to the audience for comment. The panel then met in executive session to consider the comments received, and released a revised statement later that day at http://consensus.nih.gov. This statement is an independent report of the panel and is not a policy statement of the NIH or the Federal Government. A final copy of this statement is available, along with other recent conference statements, at the same web address of http://consensus.nih.gov.
Conclusions: Menopause is the permanent cessation of menstrual periods that occurs naturally in women, usually in their early 50s. Many women have few or no symptoms; these women are not in need of medical treatment. Premenopausal or perimenopausal women who have menopause induced by surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation are more likely to experience bothersome and even disabling symptoms. These women need safe and effective treatment. It is difficult to differentiate those symptoms that are truly associated with menopause from those due to aging. Hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness are clearly tied to the menopausal transition, and there is some positive evidence of a menopausal link for sleep disturbance. Vasomotor symptoms are reported with high frequency during the menopausal transition. Estrogen, either by itself or with progestins, is the most consistently effective therapy for these symptoms. However, the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) has identified important risk factors associated with use of these therapies. Decision making for women regarding treatment for menopausal symptoms requires personal knowledge and balancing of these risks. There are many potential alternatives to estrogen. However, their effectiveness and long-term safety need to be studied in rigorous clinical trials in diverse populations of women. Much more research is needed to clearly define the natural history of menopause, associated symptoms, and effectiveness and safety of treatments for bothersome symptoms. Natural histories are important for both science and policy. Knowing how many women transit menopause with few or no symptoms, and how many manage menopause largely on their own, can lead to public health information that empowers women and increases their self-reliance. Medical care and future clinical trials are best focused on women with the most severe and prolonged symptoms. The state of the science in management of menopausal symptoms should be reassessed periodically. Menopause is "medicalized" in contemporary U.S. society. There is great need to develop and disseminate information that emphasizes menopause as a normal, healthy phase of women's lives and promotes its demedicalization. Medical care and future clinical trials are best focused on women with the most severe and prolonged symptoms. Barriers to professional care for these women should be removed.