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by Lise Cloutier-Steele

After weaning myself off HRT, very gradually since December 2003, it’s been over almost a year now since I’ve been completely free of hormone supplementation. Although I had my doubts about succeeding at this, because I have no ovaries, I finally did it. The best news is that I’m coping well with the changes.

Following a hysterectomy and ovary removal procedure in 1991, I tried various types of hormone therapies. None was helpful at controlling the nastier symptoms of surgical menopause until I tried bio-identical hormones in June of 1999.

The bio-identical combination therapy of progesterone and tri-estrogens was by far the most effective at controlling the hot flashes and night sweats, and keeping my moods in check.

Despite its effectiveness, however, pharmaceutical chemists and other medical experts have been warning women against long term use of this product, and I knew that my time was up 8 years ago, 5 years or less being the recommended time period to be on HRT. Of course, the Women’s Health Initiatives’ 2002 study on combined HRT, and the results of its 2004 study into the risks and benefits of estrogen only replacement therapy (ERT), also prompted me to practice what I’d been preaching to others about getting off HRT and staying off.

Flushing Again

When I reached the once-per-week stage in my weaning off process, the flushes were back, and I became more anxious and frustrated about their effect on my quality of life. My irritability and the abrupt shifts in my mood were indicators that I was in the withdrawal phase, which lasted about 2 weeks.

I began to experience a minimum of 15 violent flushes daily, but instead of giving in, and reaching for my jar of HRT cream, I decided to take control. Out came the fans for instant relief, and then I started thinking about other coping strategies on which I could rely when in need. I came up with several, all of which seem to be working quite well.

  • Avoiding stress is crucial to decreasing the frequency and the intensity of hot flashes. I realize that it’s hard to achieve a stress-free existence at all times, but once I identified the triggers that brought on stress and strong emotions, I was on my way. I revisit this strategy on a daily basis, reminding myself of the hot result if I don’t remain calm.
  • Rather than resist the flush, I ride it out. I tell myself that it will be over in a few minutes, and that my accelerated heart rate will be back to normal just as quickly.
  • Deep abdominal breathing works wonders at diminishing the intensity of the flush.
  • I’ve been wearing light clothing all year round since I underwent the hysterectomy, but cotton material helps me stay the coolest.
  • I avoid spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine as much as I can.
  • I exercise daily, but never within 3 hours of my bedtime.

What to do about Night Sweats

  • My evenings at home are all about rest and relaxation. Candles and listening to classical or jazz music create the perfectly peaceful atmosphere.
  • An extra long soak in the tub is equally relaxing.
  • Before I go to bed, I lower the thermostat or open my bedroom window if it’s cool.
  • A large fan on the floor by the side of my bed serves me well.
  • I don’t drink hot drinks like tea or coffee in the evening. If you can’t avoid these completely, try doing without after dinner or at least 3 hours before you go to bed.
  • I don’t smoke, but those who do can reduce the frequency and intensity of night sweats by avoiding smoking 3 hours before bedtime. Quitting altogether would be more beneficial, but I know that this is easier said than done.

Since I’ve implemented these strategies, I have managed to decrease my hot flash and night sweat frequency and intensity by 50%. I’m confident that my final outcome will be much better in time. Now I will write to those who told me that my body would eventually adjust without HRT, and tell them that they were right.

According to the newest study conducted by American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), which I find self serving, many women who stopped taking HRT following the release of the WHI’s studies are now going back on it. Dr. Isaac Schiff, chair of the organization, claims that we are reverting back to what he calls an “appropriate balance”, where women recognize the risks, but do it anyway, because HRT is the “appropriate” treatment for hot flashes. Well, this woman is not falling for it. I prefer quantity of life with a few minor discomforts without having to worry about the risks associated with HRT.

Lise Cloutier-Steele is a communications specialist and a professional writer and editor. She is the author of Living and Learning with a Child Who Stutters, and the recipient of a Canada 125 Award in recognition of a significant contribution to the community and to Canada for her volunteer efforts to help children who stutter and their parents. She is also the author of Misinformed Consent – Women’s Stories about Unnecessary Hysterectomy, Next Decade Inc.,, and she has appeared on The Nature of Things with David Suzuki, Canada AM, the Women’s Television Network (now W), The Phil Donahue Show, The Body and Health Show, and several other media to talk about this important women’s health topic.

The information in this article is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice.