Menopause: “Hot Flash Havoc”

In 2002, the Women’s Health Initiative released a study claiming that women who use hormone replacement therapy drugs to treat the symptoms of menopause are more likely to get a deadly form of breast cancer.

A media frenzy ensued, and most of the 70 million women in America going through menopause stopped taking hormones. Most women still don’t.

A new documentary, aptly titled “Hot Flash Havoc,” is educating women on their options for treating menopause, including hormone replacement therapy.

Here are some of the most interesting findings from the film:

  • 99% of doctors get less than one hour of menopause training in schools. Women going through menopause should try to find a menopause specialist. Dr. Lauren F Streicher, who was interviewed for the film, suggests women visit the web site of the North American Menopause Society to find a menopause specialist. “I don’t think there are any in the suburbs,” she says. “But there are a few of us in the city.”
  • The 2002 study that most women assume is gospel was deeply flawed. The hormones in that study were estrogen based. Since then, doctors have developed new hormones that are safer. And the women in the study were well into their sixties. Taking hormones earlier could be safer.
  • When 28 million women went off of hormones following the study’s release, reports of osteoporosis increased substantially.
  • Most women shun hormone replacement therapy because they don’t want breast cancer, but women are more likely to die from heart disease related to obesity.

The documentary is the brainchild of executive producer Heidi Houston. Six years ago, the Aspen filmmaker (who was a real estate broker at the time) began suffering from excruciatingly painful joint ache. She started to lose her hair and couldn’t sleep. Her teenage children wanted to leave home to get away from her. “My temper was so bad I started firing people I’d worked with for years over the phone,” she says.

She visited dozens of doctors across the country in an attempt to find out what was wrong with her. She was offered antidepressants and sleeping pills but no one mentioned menopause. Heidi herself never considered it until she attended a lecture on menopause. Halfway through the speech, she realized she’d found someone who “got it.”

The specialist who gave the speech, however, had a four-month waiting list for new patients. After she finished, Houston boldly asked the doctor, “What do I need to do to see you next week?” The doctor hesitated at first, but when Heidi broke out into a hot flash, the doctor said, “I can see you are suffering. I’ll squeeze you in if you promise to make a documentary on menopause.” Houston, who had no movie experience, agreed without hesitation.

The doctor saw Houston the following week and slapped a hormone patch on her arm. Within ten days, Houston was back to her old self. “My son said, ‘Mom, I don’t know where you’ve been but I’m glad you’re back.’”

Houston kept her word to the doctor, and spent the next three years making the documentary.

You can also attend the next local showing of “Hot Flash Havoc” on May 12, in Naperville. Afterwards, menopause specialists will stick around for a Q & A session. For additional dates or screenings, check in with the Hot Flash Havoc website.

“The movie isn’t dry and serious all the time,” Houston says. “You’ll laugh and cry too. Women need to educate themselves about this issue, because doctors don’t always know.”