It has been a long, rough, and cold winter, but the sun is finally shining and we are all hoping for beautiful days ahead. Below are two interesting articles describing findings and issues that come up very often in our discussions together.
The first article is a summary of a major study on menopause and hot flashes. It has gained a lot of attention in the media because for the first time, a well-conducted study is acknowledging how disruptive and long-lasting menopausal symptoms can be for many women. The article reports on the lack of effective treatment for hot flashes, especially now that estrogen is no longer recommended due to its connection to breast cancer. Unfortunately, the medical world is ignorant about homeopathic medicine and its well-known benefits for menopausal symptoms: hot flashes, insomnia, mood disturbances, fatigue, physical symptoms, and more. As so many of my patients can testify, most symptoms of menopause improve significantly within weeks on a homeopathic treatment.
On the heels of these findings about menopause, a reputable international medical journal, PLOS, published a major and very well-done study from Mexico comparing homeopathy, Fluoxetine (Prozac), and placebo for moderate to severe depression in perimenopausal and postmenopausal women. Homeopathy was superior to Prozac and placebo in all measured areas. Good news for homeopathic medicine!
The second article, written by a health economist and a physician, expands on an issue that has been very much in the news in the last several years. Are we overdiagnosing and overtreating, and are patients truly aware of both the benefits and harms of treatments and procedures? Those important questions affect other equally significant issues in medicine: the communication between doctor and patient for informed medical decision-making, the media and pharmaceutical industry’s unchecked influence on the public’s perception, and the efficiency and cost of our healthcare system.
“More Than Half of Women Have Hot Flashes for at Least 7 Years” (HealthDay, February 16, 2015)
A significant new study finds that more than half of women experience menopause-related symptoms, such as hot flashes and night sweats, for an average of 7 years or more. Some women experience up to 12 years of symptoms, which are uncomfortable, disruptive, can interfere with their quality of life, and especially cause major sleep disturbances. Black women reported the longest duration of menopausal symptoms, while Japanese women reported the shortest duration. Hormone replacement therapy is one option to relieve symptoms, but is often avoided because of the potential links to cancer. In some cases, a low dose of an antidepressant may help. However, according to the article, there is no one successful method for treating the symptoms of menopause. Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, smoking, eating spicy foods, and doing yoga, meditation, or acupuncture may help some women.
“If Patients Only Knew How Often Treatments Could Harm Them” (The New York Times, March 2, 2015)
Patients often underestimate the risks associated with medical treatments and overestimate the benefits, leading to them getting more treatments than they may actually need. In a literature review published in JAMA Internal Medicine, 30 studies were examined and patients were assessed on their understanding of the benefits and risks of treatments. In one example, in a 2012 study published in the Annals of Family Medicine, more than two-thirds of patients overestimated the benefits of medications to prevent cardiovascular disease, and more than 80 percent overestimated the benefits of medications to prevent hip fractures. In a number of other studies, patients also underestimated the potential harm of treatments and diagnostic tests by 67%. For example, more than 40% of patients underestimated the amount of a CT scan radiation dose (equal to 300 check X-rays). This article indicates that patients may decline some unnecessary treatments or procedures if they are accurately informed about all the consequences. While it can be argued that opting for more care may offer preventative benefits for some patients, being fully informed about the risks and benefits of different treatments should be of the utmost importance.