Hormone replacement therapy, HRT, are medications prescribed mainly to women who have reached menopause. These medications contain hormones that the female body does not produce any more after menopause and is used to treat the symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes and vaginal discomfort. HRT also reduces bone loss and decreases fracture risk in postmenopausal women.
Along with the benefits of HRT, it has some risks. The risks vary with the different types of hormone replacement therapies, the dose of HRT and the timeframe of HRT use. HRT should be tailored to each individual to ensure the best results are achieved and regular appointments with the doctor are needed to re-evaluate the therapy.
Women go through a stage in life when their period stops. This is called menopause and is a normal part of aging. In the year prior to and during menopause, the level of female hormones in the body fluctuates. These manifest as symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, painful sex, and vaginal dryness. For some, the symptoms are quite mild and resolve on their own. For others with more prevalent symptoms, HRT can be taken to relieve the symptoms and protect against osteoporosis.
For women who have had a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus) or bilateral oophorectomy (surgical removal of the uterus and ovaries), low dose estrogen is usually suggested by doctors. Estrogen is available in different forms such as a daily pill, patch, vaginal ring, gel or spray. The pill and patch are more popular than the rest.
This is referred to as combination therapy as it includes both estrogen and progestin (synthetic progesterone). This combined form is for women who have not had their uterus removed. Taking a combination of both estrogen and progesterone helps lowers the risk of endometrial cancer.
There has been a shift towards treating menopause using natural progesterone rather than synthetic progestins as natural progesterone has no negative effects on the lipid levels in the body and is a good HRT choice for women suffering from high cholesterol levels.
As with any medication, HRT has side effects. If experiencing any of these, it would be beneficial to book an appointment with your doctor and discuss any further alternatives.
Systemic estrogen is the most potent treatment of menopausal symptoms regardless of the health risks it poses. For some, the benefits of HRT may outweigh the risk. These individuals are:
For women who have gone through early menopause, especially those who have had their ovaries removed and do not take HRT until 45 are at a higher risk of:
The factors that play a significant role in the risks correlate to HRT depends on your age, type of menopause and time lapsed since experiencing menopause.
For premature post-menopausal women, the benefits of the HRT is higher than the risks.
Women with certain conditions should stay away from HRT. Women who have had these should not take HRT:
Menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes can be managed with healthy lifestyle changes. Keeping cool, reducing caffeine and alcohol intake and practicing relaxation techniques can help regulate the symptoms. Vaginal moisturizers and lubricants are alternatives to combat vaginal itching and dryness.
HRT has its pros and cons. The best way to find out if HRT is for you is to speak to your doctor. They will help provide the information and advice needed for you to make an informed decision about HRT.