This is a plain English summary of an original research article. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and reviewer(s) at the time of publication.
A combination of oestrogen and progestogen via patches is the best treatment for menopause symptoms. Other options may be less beneficial, including tablets combining oestrogen and progestogen, and non-hormonal treatments, isoflavones and black cohosh, though they may have other benefits. There is no evidence to support the use of antidepressants.
Menopause affects women’s personal life and work life, but many don’t seek help from healthcare professionals. It is important to identify the most effective and safest treatment to help women in this transitional period.
This review compared treatment options for the short-term management of hot flushes and night sweats in women aged 45 years or older who had not had a hysterectomy. The results have informed the NICE guideline on diagnosis and management of menopause.
A notable limitation is the lack of evidence on short or long-term adverse effects, particularly for some of the non-drug treatments available.
Why was this study needed?
Menopause usually occurs in women between 45 and 55 years old, with an average age of 51. About 1 in 100 women experience premature menopause before turning 40.
In 2016, a UK survey showed that women aged 45 to 65 years who had experienced menopause in the previous ten years experienced on average seven different symptoms, with 42% saying that symptoms were worse than expected. Despite the impact on home and work life, half of women reported not consulting a healthcare professional for management of symptoms.
It is important to identify the best treatment to manage menopause in order to decrease the impact it has on women’s lives. This systematic review and meta-analysis aimed to compare different interventions used to treat the most common “vasomotor” symptoms of menopause, hot flushes and night-sweats.
What did this study do?
This systematic review identified 47 randomised controlled trials including 8,326 women aged 45 years or older who had gone through natural menopause and not had a hysterectomy. Trials assessed 16 classes of treatments given for up to 26 weeks.
Most drugs were compared to placebo in the underlying studies. The authors conducted a network meta-analysis, which is a statistical technique used to estimate the effects of treatments with each other across the active arms of the included trials. The primary aim was to look at the frequency of vasomotor symptoms, adverse effects of treatment discontinuation and vaginal bleeding. Six months treatment was not long enough to quantify the frequency of rarer adverse effects.
Some analyses combined mixed populations of women with and without a uterus, as the authors found similar effects for both groups. The small number of studies, significant difference (heterogeneity) in results and lack of information on symptom severity may limit confidence in the indirect results or precise rankings.
What did it find?
- Oestrogen and progestogen patches had the highest likelihood of being the best treatment for reducing the frequency of vasomotor symptoms. Patches were better than placebo (mean ratio [MR] 0.23, 95% credible intervals [CrI] 0.09 to 0.57) and also better than raloxifene, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), isoflavones and Chinese herbal medicine.
- Oral oestrogen and progestogen tablets were no better than placebo (MR 0.52, 95% CrI 0.25 to 1.06), but neither were they significantly different from hormone patches (MR 2.23, 95% CrI 0.7 to 7.1). Estimates suggest that combination hormone tablets are better than placebo but poorer than treatment via patches.
- Isoflavones and black cohosh were better than placebo (MR 0.62, 95% CrI 0.44 to 0.87 and MR 0.4, 95% CrI 0.17 to 0.9, respectively) but poorer than hormone patches and no different from hormone tablets.
- Data on treatment discontinuation was available from 21 trials in 4,829 women. Women were less likely to discontinue combination oestrogen and progestogen than placebo (odds ratio [OR] 0.61, 95% CrI 0.37 to 0.99), and also less likely to discontinue conjugated oestrogen with bazedoxifene (OR 0.31, 95% CrI 0.1 to 1.00), though both links were of borderline statistical significance. Women taking tibolone and SSRIs/SNRIs were more likely to discontinue than women taking placebo.
- There were not enough data to draw conclusions on the likelihood of vaginal bleeding with the different treatments.
What does current guidance say on this issue?
The NICE 2015 guideline on diagnosis and management of menopause recommends offering oestrogen and progestogen to women with a uterus for short-term management of vasomotor symptoms. NICE also recommend that before recommending isoflavones and black cohosh for vasomotor symptoms, practitioners should explain that evidence is limited, preparations may vary, safety is uncertain and there may be drug interactions.
The guideline recommends against the routine use of SSRIs, SNRIs and clonidine as first-line treatment.
What are the implications?
This study was conducted to shed light on the best treatment for short-term management of menopausal flushes. It was part of the development for the 2015 NICE guideline on menopause. It has confirmed the better efficacy of the combination of oestrogen with progestogen via patches compared to alternatives.
There is limited information on adverse effects. Separate publications will review treatment for women who have had a hysterectomy and for women at risk of, or with history of, breast cancer.
Citation and Funding
Sarri G, Pedder H, Dias S, et al. Vasomotor symptoms due to natural menopause; systematic review and network meta-analysis (NMA) of treatment effects from the NICE Menopause Guideline. BJOG. 2017. [Epub ahead of print].
This work was undertaken in part by authors (GS, HP, YG) from the National Guideline Alliance (formerly the National Collaborating Centre for Women and Children’s Health) which received funding from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Institute. SD received support from the Centre for Clinical Practice (NICE), with funding from the NICE Clinical Guidelines Technical Support Unit, University of Bristol and from the Medical Research Council (MRC Grant MR/M005232/1).
BMS. Are women suffering in silence? New BMS survey puts spotlight on significant impact of menopause. Marlow: British Menopause Society; 2016.
NHS Choices. Menopause. London: Department of Health; 2015.
NICE. Menopause: diagnosis and management. NG23. London: National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence; 2015.
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