Women who have asthma may approach menopause with concerns about the impacts that hormonal fluctuations may have upon the condition. This is a fair concern as there is research evidence that suggests that menopause does in fact increase the risk of developing asthma and other respiratory issues. What does this mean for women who already have asthma? What are the risks and what can be done to prevent serious complications from arising during menopause? In order to answer these questions, it is important to understand how menopause affects asthma and additionally, what can be done to lessen health risks during this phase.
How menopause impacts current asthma sufferers?
The majority of asthma related hospitalizations for women occur at the perimenopausal stage of life. Studies have found that women who are thin and have low body weight are at the highest risk for developing complications. Hormonal changes such as drops in estrogen levels are linked to worsening respiratory function. When asthma is already present, the symptoms can worsen. For those who do not yet have asthma, the chances of developing it are higher.
Why decreased estrogen in thin women increase asthma risks ?
During menopause, the ovaries cease production of estrogen and the body’s fat cells take over as the main producers. When there is an absence of fat cells, there is less estrogen manufactured. Although the exact correlation is still unknown, estrogen is believed to provide protection for and aid in lung function. Women with more fat cells in their bodies also have higher levels of estrogen. In short, hormonal changes signal a need for extra attention for women with asthma.
Potentially negative impacts of estrogen on asthma
While it is true that estrogen helps to aid in lung function, there is another side to this hormone. While it is beneficial overall, and is not the cause of asthma in menopausal women and other respiratory problems, fluctuations of estrogen can lead to an inflammation of the airways. Ups and downs in hormone levels can act in the same manner that hay fever and other allergies do, so it is in fact the fluctuation of estrogen levels that can trigger asthma attacks. This is one of the major reasons why perimenopause can be risky for women with asthma.
Problems also identified in women who are overweight during menopause
While women who have a moderate amount of fat cells in the body seem to have better lung function, overweight women are also at risk for increased asthma risks during menopause. This is due to other factors such as the labor of carrying extra weight affecting breathing. This happens to a smaller extent in women who are overweight versus those who have a low body mass.
How to lessen the impacts of menopause on asthma?
Stabilizing hormone levels during perimenopause is the best way of decreasing the risks of asthma related complications. Hormone replacement therapy is an effective way to accomplish this. Although hormone replacement therapy does increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, blood clots and certain cancers, the benefits in some cases, may outweigh the risks.
Other ways to decrease asthma attacks in perimenopause
In addition to hormone replacement therapy, women with asthma during perimenopause should take extra care in avoiding the things that triggered asthma episodes prior to menopause. These can include certain pollen types and foods that are suspect for allergic reactions. Stress can also trigger asthma attacks. Unfortunately, some women experience increased stress levels due to uncomfortable symptoms of menopause. Hot flashes, night sweats, depression, panic attacks and mood swings are common symptoms that can add to increases in stress and anxiety. These however; are usually effectively diminished through use of HRT. There are lots of menopausal supplements available which actually work on relieving all menopause related symptoms which indirectly help to relieve asthma. Eating a healthy and balanced diet that provides for the maintenance of adequate body weight can further reduce the risks of menopause related asthma complications.
The physical changes that occur during perimenopause can cause a worsening of respiratory problems in women with asthma. Fluctuations in estrogen levels have been known to cause inflammation of the airways and can trigger attacks. Hormone replacement therapy is one successful and effective way to help lessen the incidence of menopause related asthma complications. Although there are certain long term health risks associated with HRT, in some cases, the benefits outweigh the risks.