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Topicals for Your Symptoms

There was a time when women seeking menopause treatment would undergo hormone replacement therapy. Later, it was discovered that prolonged exposure to HRT could lead to increased health risks, such as cancer and heart disease. This knowledge has led to the wider use of alternative therapies and methods of administration, such as the use of topical menopause treatments. Topical administration of estrogen does offer benefits that lessen, but not exclude, the risks associated with oral medication.

HFN 010 Topicals 1 4885379How Do Topical Treatments Work?
Your skin is not only your body's largest organ, it's also very porous, absorbing what you put on it, such as moisturizers and medications in liquid, cream, or oil form. Topical menopause treatments can be administered in a variety of ways, including sprays, gels, creams, lotions, and patches. 

The hormone in the medication enters the bloodstream directly through the skin, bypassing the liver and reducing the risk of blood clots that have been associated with orally administered estrogen, especially in birth control pills. While estrogen does not cause blood clots, it does increase a woman's risk. Since the GI tract is also bypassed, the additional substances that are often found in oral medications to help the body absorb the drug through the stomach are avoided. Topical medications are available for women seeking bioidentical treatments, as well.

Topical Treatments for Vaginal Dryness
While many topical medications are designed to treat a variety of menopause symptoms, there are topical treatments aimed specifically at treating the natural occurrence of vaginal dryness and atrophy during menopause, which can make intercourse uncomfortable or painful. Hormone-containing creams such as Premarin® and Estrace® are usually inserted inside the vagina via an applicator, and are a good alternative for women who want to treat vaginal menopause symptoms without taking oral HRT. Be aware, however, that it is still possible for hormones to enter the bloodstream using this method. If you are using vaginal creams and you begin to feel relief from other menopause symptoms, such as hot flashes, it's a sign that the hormones in the cream have entered your bloodstream.

A Natural Alternative
One of the most popular alternative topical treatments is wild yam cream. Advocates of wild yam cream claim that it is an effective substance for relieving hot flashes without the risks associated with HRT, although many forms of wild yam cream contain synthetic progesterone. As with most treatments, too much can cause unwanted side effects. If you are considering using wild yam cream, be aware that it is sold as a supplement, not a drug, meaning that producers of the cream are not required to show definitive proof to the FDA that the product is safe and effective. Ask your primary care doctor or gynecologist if he or she has a specific brand recommendation.

Topical Risks
If you use or are thinking of using a topical medication to treat your menopause symptoms, keep in mind that it's possible to transfer the hormone to others. Any gel, spray, lotion, cream or patch that is applied to skin that isn't covered by clothing can rub off when you come into personal contact with others. Small children and pets are especially susceptible to this transfer. There have been reports of enlarged breasts in children after second-hand estrogen exposure. Also note that estrogen cream applied inside the vagina can rub off onto your male partner during intercourse, so it might be wise to skip sexual intimacy the night you apply the cream. 

Current and potential users of over-the-counter topical medications should know that many of these treatments vary in strength from batch to batch. Research has also shown that different women using the same product can have vastly different absorption rates. In other words, what might be a proper amount for one woman could be a dangerously high dose for another.

Before beginning any type of treatment, it is very important to speak with your doctor first. There is no single medication that works best for all women, and your healthcare provider can evaluate your situation and prescribe an appropriate treatment.

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