Researchers at Helsinki University in Finland have published their findings in the journal Menopause.
“There has been a long debate over this issue. This new, well-designed study puts forth good evidence that hormone therapy does not improve quality of life in recently menopausal women who do not have numerous hot flashes,” said Dr. Margery Gass, executive director of The North American Menopause Society.
The 150 women in the Helsinki study had recently gone through menopause.
Seventy-two of them had seven or more moderate to severe hot flashes per day, whereas 78 had three or fewer mild hot flashes per day — or no hot flashes at all. For six months, about half the women in each group used hormone therapy (of various kinds) and half got only a placebo with no hormones.
For the study women tracked their hot flashes and answered questions about their general health, sexual well-being, and menopause symptoms.
Symptoms such as insomnia, depressed mood, nervousness, aching joints or muscles, memory and concentration, anxiety and fears, and menstrual cycle-like complaints, such as abdominal bloating and breast tenderness, were monitored.
The women with moderate to severe hot flashes had more sleep problems, irritability, exhaustion, depressed mood, joint pains, palpitations, nausea, and swelling than the other women.
Hormone therapy helped the women who had moderate to severe hot flashes with their sleep, memory and concentration, anxiety and fears, exhaustion, irritability, swelling, joint and muscle pains, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and general health.
However, for the women with mild or no hot flashes, hormone therapy made no difference.
Neither group reported significant improvement in general health or in sexual well-being, but that may be because the women had been in menopause for such a short time that vulvovaginal atrophy (VVA) might not have developed yet, said the authors. (VVA can be treated with local hormones or moisturizers.)
A limitation of the study, cautioned the authors, is that the women were white, healthy and lean, so the results may not apply to women of other ethnicities or with pre-existing health conditions.