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Published on August 17, 2015

Hate those hot flashes? Wait until you see the billHate those hot flashes? Wait until you see the bill

Ask any woman about her health issues, and menopause is likely to be near the top of the list of life events she’s looking forward to the least.

Despite relief from the hassles of a monthly menstrual period, the transition out of the childbearing years brings new challenges and symptoms. Even with all that’s been written and said on this subject, the actual experience of menopause may still catch many women unprepared.

And for those with moderate-to-severe symptoms, the biggest surprise of all may be less about the unwelcome physical effects and more about the price tag.

Untreated menopause, as it turns out, can be costly.

Menopause affects every woman differently. Some women hardly notice any signs or symptoms, while others are debilitated for years. Common symptoms include:

  • hot flashes and night sweats
  • sleep disruption
  • mood changes like irritability, anxiety and depression
  • vaginal and urinary changes
  • dry skin
  • decreased interest in sex

Hot flashes and night sweats are among the most prevalent (and bothersome) of these symptoms, occurring in 75 percent of post-menopausal women and in more than 90 percent of women who have had a hysterectomy.

For working women in particular, untreated hot flashes can impair work ability, cause higher work absenteeism, and increase health care visits and costs.

In a recent study published in Menopause: The Journal of The North American Menopause Society, researchers sifted through more than 12 million medical claims submitted to private U.S. insurers from 1999 to 2011. They also looked at work loss and disability data covering about 2.5 million lives, including short-term and long-term disabilities, and workers compensation.

The study compared the expenses incurred for untreated women with hot flashes to those either being treated or without symptoms.

Their findings: Untreated, symptomatic women spent $1135 more on all outpatient visits and $168 for pharmacy costs per year than their peers.

And that same group of women was more likely to miss work, which was estimated to cost $770 per person annually.

That means that for the entire study population of more than 500,000 women, the cost associated with untreated hot flashes amounted to $339.6 million for outpatient visits and $27.7 million for work loss.

Geralyn Leone, MD, a gynecologist at Cape Cod Healthcare, has seen firsthand the challenges that menopausal women face. Women should seek treatment for menopause symptoms when it interferes with the quality of their lives, she said.

“Not every woman will be bothered by menopause, but there is no reason to suffer if you find yourself being limited in any way. There are many things you can do to safely help yourself,” says Dr. Leone, who has been practicing for more than 22 years.

“First and foremost, live a healthy lifestyle, especially during this time period. Trade your junk food for low fat, high fiber choices. Look to add foods rich in Omega-3s or take a fish oil supplement,” she urges. “Get regular exercise and try to maintain a healthy weight.”

For women suffering moderate-to-severe menopausal symptoms, hormone replacement therapy is still effective and when used cautiously, can be a safe option, Dr. Leone says.

A 2002 report from the Women’s Health Initiative cautioned against the use of hormone replacement therapy because of an increased risk for breast cancer, stroke and blood clots.

“It turns out that using progesterone in combination with estrogen was the culprit,” Dr. Leone says. “We have many new hormone-based therapies that have a safer profile. They are really effective in decreasing the most debilitating symptoms like hot flashes and vaginal dryness.”

For a more natural approach, some of Dr. Leone’s patients have benefited from taking fish oil, along with oil of evening primrose, and Estrovera, a rhubarb extract.

Others have found great relief from menopausal symptoms through mindfulness techniques like cognitive behavior therapy and biofeedback, she adds. Consult your doctor before choosing any of these options, she says.

With so many effective therapies, there is no reason why any woman needs to suffer with difficult menopause symptoms. Her body—and her wallet—just may thank her for it.