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Despite the clinical impressions that there are considerable psychological benefits from HRT, there is only clear evidence for amelioration of psychological symptoms (including improvement in cognitive function) in women who have undergone a surgical menopause. Otherwise in the natural menopause it remains unclear which, if any, non-sexual psychological symptoms respond directly to oestrogen except as a secondary response to reduction in physical symptoms. Overall, it has to be said that there is little scientific backing for hormonal treatment of psychological problems on their own around the time of the natural menopause. In most cases psychological treatment or counselling will be more appropriate than HRT. It must be remembered that the prevalence of psychological symptoms in the menopause and gynaecology clinic is high just as it is in all hospital settings. The task is to identify which women: 1. Have a predominance of psychological symptoms and might have psychiatric disorders. They may have presented in the clinic because they also happen to be menopausal, but it may well be that the psychiatric disorder has a quite independent aetiology. They will benefit from specific treatment for that disorder. 2. Have, and complain of, low moods or other non-specific psychological symptoms and have presented in the clinic because they are menopausal. They might benefit from practical, supportive help with current and ongoing stresses and strains. 3. Present appropriate menopausal complaints and only on enquiry reveal their psychological problems. In particular, disorders such as depressive illness, anxiety states and alcohol abuse can present with physical symptoms including ones which mimic vasomotor ones. This group may well be non-responders to HRT. Women requiring particular consideration might be those with other health problems (particularly chronic ones that might carry on in to old age) who are possibly more at risk of developing depression as they pass through the menopause. There is clearer evidence that HRT has beneficial effects on sexual function. When sexual symptoms are presented it is worth clarifying the exact features contributing to the complaint. Is it a problem of sexual interest, of infrequency of sexual activity, of vaginal dryness and dyspareunia, or is it a mixture of these complaints? Reduction of sexual interest and reduced sexual activity with the partner and possibly orgasm may accompany the menopause. Oestrogens have been shown to have some beneficial effect on sexual desire. Where oestrogen alone is ineffective, testosterone is usually beneficial. This treatment effect is particularly clear in surgically menopausal women. Non-menopausal aspects of the sexual relationship must be considered too. These aspects include the quality of the relationship, the sexual performance of the partner (since sexual desire decreases in both sexes with age), and age-related changes in self-image. These issues may need to be addressed at a simple health education level or with specific counselling. Although a woman's motivation or desire might change as a result of HRT, on its own this will not influence the frequency of intercourse or response during intercourse unless the partner variables permit this. The situation is more straightforward when problems of postmenopausal vaginal dryness and dyspareunia are the key issues. Oestrogens have been shown to be highly effective in such circumstances. It is also worth noting that regular and continued sexual activity has been found to protect against vaginal dryness.

Original publication




Journal article


Baillieres Clin Obstet Gynaecol

Publication Date





385 - 399


Anxiety, Cognition Disorders, Depression, Dyspareunia, Estrogen Replacement Therapy, Female, Humans, Libido, Menopause, Middle Aged, Orgasm, Ovariectomy, Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological