More Questions Than Answers When Managing HIV and Menopause


Word: on this article, “ladies” refers to cisgender ladies — those that establish as ladies and have been assigned feminine intercourse at delivery. Menopause additionally impacts transgender males and non-binary folks, however revealed analysis on the menopause expertise has included solely cisgender ladies members.

March 18, 2022 — Gina Brown was boarding an early-morning flight in 2016 when she abruptly began to overheat.

“As quickly as I stepped on the airplane, I instantly was drenched in sweat,” she says.

Not understanding what to do, she stood nonetheless till a fellow feminine passenger seen her alarm and requested a flight attendant to seize her a cup of ice.

“Is that this the primary time this has occurred to you?” the lady requested, and Brown nodded.

“It’s referred to as a scorching flash,” the lady continued, “and also you’re going to be OK.”

As quickly as Brown returned from her journey, she visited her physician for bloodwork and discovered that that her hormone ranges have been lowering.

“I knew one thing was happening, however [my provider and I] didn’t have a dialog about menopause,” she says. Brown, 56, has been living with HIV for practically 28 years and is a part of a rising group of girls with HIV now coming into menopause.

In 1996, an individual identified with HIV at 20 might anticipate to stay solely to 39. Due to antiretroviral remedy (ART), an HIV diagnosis will not be practically so dire. Now, somebody with HIV who sticks to their remedy might stay practically so long as anybody else.

For girls with HIV, this implies going by means of menopause. Although this transition might be difficult for any lady, having menopause with HIV provides one other stage of complication. On prime of staying with each day ART plans, they have to additionally take care of the hormone adjustments of menopause and the signs that include it. And the restricted analysis on this space suggests that girls with HIV and their docs might not be ready.

“These of us long-term survivors who’ve been round for some time by no means anticipated to be right here, and I don’t suppose suppliers or the well being care system anticipated us to be right here,” says Vickie Lynn, PhD, who’s 56 and has been residing with HIV for 37 years, since an AIDS diagnosis in 1991. Her work focuses on well being take care of folks with HIV.

“So now that we’re right here, I do not know that now we have sufficient info or analysis to tell a few of our remedy choices,” she says.

As an alternative, these ladies are met with a sequence of unknowns because of restricted research and conflicting findings.

Earlier Menopause?

The beginning of menopause might be tough to find out in ladies residing with HIV, says Sara Looby, PhD, a researcher at Massachusetts Basic Hospital in Boston and an assistant professor of drugs at Harvard Medical Faculty. Her analysis focuses on metabolic disorders, together with bone loss, heart problems threat, and menopause in ladies residing with HIV.

This inhabitants is at an elevated threat for what’s referred to as amenorrhea, or lacking menstrual intervals, because of each behavioral and scientific components, and typically that is mistakenly assumed to be menopause, Looby says.

A historical past of smoking, low weight, methadone use, or use of different medication is frequent in ladies with HIV and may result in missed intervals.

Some components particular to HIV — together with a low rely of 1 kind of white blood cell and an AIDS analysis — have additionally been linked to amenorrhea.

That is probably why research that take a look at the common age that girls with HIV attain menopause can find yourself with completely different outcomes.

Some studies suggest that girls with HIV have a tendency undergo menopause 3 to five years sooner than different ladies. Different research recommend no distinction within the age menopause begins.

However how one can decide when menopause begins diversified from examine to review, Looby says. Future analysis wants to think about sufferers’ full menstrual and reproductive historical past, in addition to medical, social, and behavioral histories, she says, in order that the findings are constant.

If menopause begins earlier in ladies with HIV, there may very well be extra well being issues. Estrogen regulates bone mass, and a few analysis suggests the hormone might assist defend the guts. Estrogen can be thought to extend manufacturing of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which might have an effect on temper and considering abilities. Ladies with HIV are already at larger threat for bone loss, coronary heart illness, and emotions of depression, Looby says, and as estrogen ranges fall throughout menopause, these situations might worsen.

Extra Frequent and Extreme Menopause Signs?

Ladies with HIV might not solely undergo menopause earlier, however their signs can also be extra frequent and extra extreme. In a 2017 study of HIV-positive and HIV-negative Nigerian ladies, these with HIV had extra menopause symptoms general and have been thrice as prone to report extreme signs, in comparison with ladies with out HIV. A 2005 study achieved in New York Metropolis discovered HIV-positive ladies have been 24% extra prone to report menopause signs, in comparison with HIV-negative ladies within the examine.

Looby’s personal analysis has additionally discovered the same sample. In a study evaluating 33 ladies with HIV to 33 ladies with out HIV — all near menopause and matched for age, race, physique mass index, and menstrual patterns — ladies with HIV reported extra extreme hot flashes and extra days with scorching flashes. These ladies additionally stated their scorching flashes interfered to a a lot better diploma with each day actions and high quality of life, in comparison with these within the examine with out HIV.

However research of girls with HIV who’re coming into menopause are uncommon, and most embrace solely small numbers of girls. Consequently, many ladies with HIV have no idea what to anticipate. “I all the time say, ‘I want someone would do some actual analysis on HIV and menopause, as a result of I need to know whether it is worse for us or whether it is similar,” says Brown, the director of strategic partnerships and neighborhood engagement on the Southern AIDS Coalition in Powder Springs, GA, exterior Atlanta. “I might suppose it’s worse for me.”

Extra frequent and extreme signs can produce other results, with some proof suggesting that girls with HIV and extreme menopause signs are much less prone to follow their HIV therapies.

“There’s a transparent image rising that menopausal signs on this group actually matter,” says Shema Tariq, PhD, an HIV doctor-scientist on the College School London Institute for World Well being in England. “They actually impression ladies’s well-being, in addition to impacting their capacity to take care of their long-term situation.”

Suppliers Cautious of Treating Menopause in Ladies With HIV

The little analysis we do have about ladies with HIV who’re in menopause suggests they may drastically profit from the identical sorts of remedy provided ladies with out HIV, together with hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Ladies with HIV recurrently have night sweats and scorching flashes throughout the menopause transition and will have extra extreme signs than ladies who don’t have the virus. If ladies with HIV usually tend to enter early menopause (outlined as coming into menopause earlier than the age of 45), then this group meets two situations for hormone replacement therapy.

Regardless of the potential advantages of HRT to ladies with HIV, some studies suggest not sufficient ladies are getting it. In Tariq’s examine, which explores how menopause impacts greater than 800 ladies residing with HIV, solely 8% of respondents stated they used hormone replacement therapy. In a Canadian examine that has not but gone by means of peer assessment, 11.8% of girls who’re transitioning to menopause and girls who’ve already been by means of menopause reported ever utilizing HRT, about half the speed of girls in North America with out HIV.

Medical doctors’ discomfort with managing menopause-related care in ladies with HIV is one cause for such low use of hormone remedy, Tariq says. In a survey of 88 normal practitioners in the UK, greater than 95% stated they have been comfy managing menopause in a normal inhabitants, however simply 46% stated they felt comfy managing menopause in ladies with HIV.

Their prime issues included the potential for drug-to-drug interactions between sure HIV medication and hormone substitute remedy, lacking an HIV-related analysis, and the dangers of menopausal hormone remedy in HIV. Practically half of respondents stated solely specialists needs to be offering menopause-related care for ladies with HIV.

However specialists can also really feel conflicted about treating menopause in ladies with HIV, says Tariq.

“If you happen to’re individuals who handle HIV, you are wanting primarily at infectious illness physicians and HIV physicians. We’re not educated as gynecologists. We’re not used to prescribing HRT,” she says. “And the issue is gynecologists aren’t used to managing HIV. They get nervous about prescribing something once they see antiretroviral treatment [a type of HIV drug] as a result of all that individuals consider is a drug-drug interplay.”

This leaves ladies with HIV in search of care and remedy for menopause in a tough scenario, the place they’re “simply being ping-ponged round between completely different well being care suppliers,” says Susan Cole-Haley, 53, an HIV activist in London who has been residing with the virus for 23 years. “So many ladies with HIV have a number of well being situations and a number of well being care suppliers, which might simply make it actually problematic and actually exhausting by way of getting assist.”

Many Unknowns

Suppliers can also be uncomfortable with prescribing hormone remedy due to alarming analysis within the early 2000s that discovered that hormone substitute remedy elevated the danger of breast cancer and coronary heart illness. More moderen analysis discovered no elevated coronary heart illness threat in ladies youthful than 60 or lower than 10 years past the beginning of menopause. Nonetheless, the “media frenzy” across the early findings “has postpone an entire load of sufferers and an entire load of clinicians from even considering of HRT,” Tariq says.

Suppliers could also be much more hesitant as a result of folks with HIV have already got a better threat for coronary heart illness, because of behaviors like smoking in addition to HIV-specific components. (Analysis has but to tease out whether or not these coronary heart results are a results of the virus, a results of the antiretroviral remedy, or each.) As well as, there have been no research wanting instantly at how nicely, and the way safely, hormone substitute remedy works in ladies with HIV, so suppliers usually depend on the rules for the usage of menopausal hormone remedy for ladies with out HIV.

Whereas researchers from Canada and the UK have compiled suggestions for HRT in ladies with HIV, there’s a nice want for a large-scale scientific trial to create constant pointers, Looby says.

Whereas these unknowns do should be mentioned with sufferers earlier than beginning hormone substitute remedy, they need to not cease docs from contemplating the remedy, says Elizabeth King, MD, of the Ladies’s Well being Analysis Institute in Vancouver, Canada.

“If ladies are having extraordinarily troublesome signs, then withholding remedy that’s doubtlessly helpful due to worries about among the issues we have no idea — I don’t know if that’s any higher,” she says.

Many ladies with HIV might not need to begin hormone substitute, as was the case for Lynn.

“I’ve taken a variety of treatment in my time, and I actually attempt to keep away from it as a lot as attainable,” she says.

Questions on drug interactions have been the primary concern for Daybreak Averitt, 53, founding father of the Nicely Challenge, an HIV nonprofit centered on ladies and women. Averitt has lived with HIV for 34 years.

“What if among the issues that I’m coping with may very well be managed by HRT?” she says. “Or what if taking it exacerbates issues in a approach that no one is aware of to search for?”

On this case, suppliers may go with sufferers to debate different remedy choices.

Whereas some ladies with HIV might not need hormone remedy, “It’s necessary that girls have that choice, and from what we’re seeing proper now, not a variety of ladies are even being provided the remedy,” King says.

There are non-hormonal therapies for managing menopause signs, together with frequent anti-depression medication and cognitive behavioral remedy, however these additionally haven’t been studied particularly in ladies with HIV.

The Path Ahead

Tariq and Looby agree the subsequent step needs to be to higher have interaction ladies with HIV in analysis and care round their expertise with menopause. This consists of research on the signs they recurrently have and the way these signs have an effect on their high quality of life, together with their bodily, psychological, cognitive, and social well being.

These research might additionally assist researchers and others perceive what these ladies with HIV need for his or her menopause care, whether or not that be treatment, psychotherapy, and/or peer assist teams.

One other necessary issue is growing schooling, for sufferers and well being care suppliers, Looby says. Many ladies might not know what menopause is, what signs seem like, and the way these hormonal adjustments can have an effect on their well being.

If suppliers preserve speaking with feminine sufferers about menopause all through maturity, that may higher put together ladies for the menopause transition and alert them to frequent signs they could have. There additionally is a superb want to coach docs and nurses, Looby says.

Infectious illness specialists might have extra schooling on menopause administration, whereas ladies’s well being specialists might have extra coaching on managing take care of sufferers with HIV.

Ideally, this info may very well be shared with a workforce of suppliers — together with infectious illness, major care, and girls’s well being specialists — so docs and different suppliers can work collectively to prescribe remedy for ladies with HIV, Looby says.

Lastly, there must be extra money for analysis to reply questions associated to menopause and HIV, together with the age menopause begins in ladies with HIV, how extreme signs are, how HIV might have an effect on the transition into menopause and vice versa, and the way nicely therapies work.

“If we don’t have funding for these research, then we received’t have solutions to information scientific care pointers essential to assist the well being, well-being, and high quality of life of girls with HIV,” Looby says.

And the variety of ladies residing with HIV coming into menopause is predicted to continue to grow, King says.

“It was solely a few many years in the past when ladies have been being informed they wouldn’t even stay to expertise menopause, and now we’re at some extent the place that is the best proportion of menopausal ladies ever that now we have seen in our HIV clinics,” she says.

“It speaks to the success of antiretrovirals,” King says, however that additionally means figuring out new challenges and addressing acknowledged gaps in care. “We’re charting a brand new course, in some methods,” she says. “There’s a variety of work to be achieved.”


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