viagra for women cknw

Viagra for Women with Dr. Rhonda Low

“Pink” Viagra and hormone replacement therapy have both been hot topics when it comes to menopause in recent years. Dr. Rhonda Low sat down with Linda Steele at CKNW to discuss (and bust) some of the most common myths surrounding these treatments and their impact on women.

Tell us more about this “pink Viagra” pill. How did it first make its way into the market?

This has been in the news now for a few years, and it’s not really a “pink Viagra” per se. It started its life out as an antidepressant, but in the research trials it wasn’t very effective as an anti-depressant. When some women commented that they felt their libidos had risen a little bit, the big pharmaceuticals decided to market it that way instead.

Is there any research to support it? Does it work?

The research studies and data haven’t changed since this pill was approved by the FDA a few years ago. The reality is, it’s really not that effective. Research has shown that women may only report ONE more satisfying sexual encounter per two months of using the product.

There are also big restrictions with respect to this pill, in addition to costing anywhere from US$400 to US$800 dollar per month. You can’t drink alcohol when you take it, it can cause dizziness, nausea, low blood pressure, and you have to take it every single day. After about 8 weeks if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. It’s not like the little blue pill for men in that you can take it when you need it. In general, female sexual response is so much more than just a pink pill.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) used to be a big thing, but it’s fallen out of popularity in recent years due to some studies indicating risks as a result of taking it. What happened?

Back in 2002, the Women’s Health Initiative claimed that a particular HRT could increase the risk of breast cancer, heart attack & stroke, and blood clots. It essentially condemned HRT for everyone, stating that it generally just wasn’t good for you. However, over the course of the last 15 years, more research has been done and we’ve found that we can’t make a carte-blanche statement for all women of all ages. That particular study only included women of an average age of 63, so older than the average age of women at menopause. These women were already at a higher health risk simply due to age.

People think that HRT is so powerful and dangerous, but how does it compare to birth control?

Funny enough, you actually get a higher dose of hormones (about five times higher) on birth control compared to HRT. What we are doing now is monitoring women in peri-menopause (where periods tend to be a bit worse) and having them continue birth control to help with those symptoms. Then, on the third day of their period, we can do a blood test and evaluate their stage in menopause. Depending on the symptoms, we can then transition from birth control into HRT to help ease that process.

Are people missing out on HRT because of fear?

The fear mongering that went on from that study truly put people at a disadvantage. If you’re in your 50s or in the early stages of menopause (10 years or less), you actually benefit from HRT. The risk of breast cancer is still very small and it can protect your heart, plus preserve your bone health. It also helps to prevent colorectal cancer and diabetes.

How do we get it to stop being such a taboo subject?

We want to encourage women to talk about these things because treatment is very individualized and not one-size-fits-all. There are different formulations of HRT, different regimens you can follow, and different ways you can take it (i.e. doses, or form such as patch, gel, pills, etc.). Depending on your symptoms and health history, we can pick the right method for you. It’s important to remember that it’s a work in progress – we might start you on something now, then change it over time to adapt to your body as it changes.

What’s the earliest sign of peri-menopause that most women would recognize and what should they do about it?

Some women will say they’ve got the “power surge”, meaning they’re feeling a bit hot (though not necessarily flushing or sweating), and then eventually insomnia. If you have any questions or aren’t sure, the most important thing is to talk to your doctor. You don’t need to suffer in silence!