What are aromatase inhibitors?
Aromatase inhibitors are medications that the doctors prescribe to women who are in postmenopausal period as a method of breast cancer prevention. They work by lowering the levels of estrogen, which is done by preventing the action of aromatase, which is necessary for the conversion of androgen into estrogen. On the other hand, these medications are not particularly effective when the same should be done in premenopausal women, and the reason for this is the fact that ovaries are responsible for the process of estrogen synthesis and not aromatase. The medications from this group can be divided into irreversible steroidal inhibitors and non-steroidal inhibitors.
Side effects of aromatase inhibitors
Even though aromatase inhibitors have proven to be more than effective and beneficial, the fact is that not all women will react positively to it. In some, certain side effects might appear, although in the majority of the cases that have been reported so far, the experienced unwanted effects were mild and far from severe or life threatening. Women who use aromatase inhibitors for a longer period of time are at higher risk of developing osteoporosis, and it is a known fact because these medications might cause bone loss. Others that might occur include stiffness or pain in the joints (according to some statistics, approximately 50% of women who were on this medication complained about these problems), and hypercholesterolemia, which happens when the cells and blood plasma contain too much cholesterol. This problem further increases the chances of developing some other diseases, such as atherosclerosis and a number of other heart related conditions.
As for the rest of the side effects that have been reported so far, they include (but are not limited to) headaches, aching in the muscles, hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Mental problems such as depression or nervousness, as well as swelling in the lower legs, problems with breathing and shortness of breath are also possible, and if any of them occurs, it is important to visit a doctor.
However, when compared to the side effects of tamoxifen, a medication that is used for the same purpose, it is obvious that aromatase inhibitors are much safer. Still, it is important to monitor the patient’s reaction to the medication, and to do the test that shows the bone density, just to make sure whether some other medications that strengthen the bones need to be taken along with aromatase inhibitors.