As we get older, our bodies change in many different ways, including how we produce various hormones. Menopause is the period in a woman’s life when her periods end, and it’s marked by significant hormonal changes.
During this period, the production of certain hormones changes considerably. Some hormones are produced in excess, while others aren’t produced at all. This leads to many symptoms which can have a profound effect on your life.
Many women choose to engage in hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT is an efficient way to limit or eliminate these symptoms so that you can make a smooth transition through menopause. However, HRT doesn’t come without side effects.
Today, we’ll take a closer look at everything you need to know about hormone replacement therapy so you can decide if it’s a good choice for you.
A Crash Course in Menopause
Before we discuss HRT any further, let’s address some of the facts surrounding menopause.
What is Menopause?
Menopause marks the end of a woman’s fertility. Once menopause is complete, estrogen and progesterone, two hormones necessary for the production of eggs, are no longer produced. Since eggs are no longer being produced, a woman will no longer get her period.
This process is entirely natural and happens with age. Menopause can also occur as a result of surgery, medical treatment or illness.
When Does it Occur?
The process is different for each woman. For most women, menopause happens around age 51. However, depending on your genetic makeup, you could go through menopause prematurely, as early as your late 30s.
Symptoms of Menopause
Menopause is characterized by several different symptoms which vary in severity from person to person. In addition to your period stopping, there are also some symptoms you may notice during this process.
- Lower sex drive
- Mood swings
- Hot flashes
- Painful sex
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Vaginal soreness or dryness
- Thinning hair
- Urinary issues
- Irregular heartbeat
How Can HRT Help?
For many women, hormone replacement therapy is a helpful way to manage the symptoms associated with menopause. There are several different options available on the market, and their effectiveness will vary depending on the person. Whichever treatment your body responds to best is the best HRT therapy for you.
HRT helps ease the symptoms of menopause by supplementing your body with the hormones it’s no longer producing, which results in a smooth transition through the process.
Perhaps most importantly, HRT has proven useful as a treatment for the degenerative bone disease osteoporosis, which affects millions of women worldwide.
Hormone Replacement Options
There are many different types of hormone therapy options. These drugs are available in creams, patches, pills or vaginal implants. Depending on your needs and body, one of these options may be better suited for your needs.
This type of therapy is useful for women who are entering the beginning stages of menopause but are still producing estrogen. This type of therapy includes both estrogen and progesterone is usually taken for two weeks at the end of a menstrual cycle.
This therapy allows women to continue a light, regular menstrual cycle during the beginning stages of menopause.
For women who have had a hysterectomy, progesterone is usually no longer a necessary component of hormone therapy. For women who have had a hysterectomy, but would still like to begin an HRT regimen to reduce the symptoms of menopause, this estrogen treatment for menopause may be helpful.
For some women, sexual and urinary issues are the primary side effects of menopause. For women who are experiencing vaginal dryness, pain during sex, or urinary and bladder problems, a localized therapy may be helpful. Local estrogen therapy usually comes in the form of a vaginal ring, cream or tablet, and it can help to ease these side effects.
This type of therapy is for postmenopausal women. With continuous HRT, women take a combination of estrogen and progesterone each day for the duration of their treatment.
Long Cycle HRT
This type of hormone therapy causes withdrawal bleeding every three months as opposed to every month. This therapy is less popular as there have been questions surrounding the safety and effectiveness of this treatment.
While natural female hormone replacement is an effective way to minimize or eliminate many of the side effects and symptoms associated with menopause, they may come with side effects of their own. In recent years, there have been several studies which have raised several health concerns with hormone therapy.
HRT has been a popular treatment for menopausal symptoms since the 1940s. By the 1960s, HRT was revered as a revolutionary treatment for menopause, and it changed the way women everywhere were coping with their symptoms.
These therapies helped to reduce the severity of many of the symptoms associated with menopause. Most importantly, it reduced the risk of developing osteoporosis. But, by the 1990s, large research studies began to suggest that perhaps HRT wasn’t as beneficial as first thought.
In the early 2000’s, the findings of these studies were published. The Women’s Health Initiative in the United States and the Million Women Study in the United Kingdom appeared to link HRT to an increased risk for developing breast cancer as well as an increased risk for heart disease, as well.
Based on these studies, hormone therapies became less popular as more women became concerned that the benefits of HRT were outweighed by the side effects. However, more recent research has researchers and skeptics alike doubting the link between HRT and certain forms of cancer.
The studies linking HRT to cancer produced mixed results. Plus, since different therapies can be used in conjunction with each other, it’s unclear whether or not one type of therapy could increase women’s risk for certain types of cancer, or if certain medicines used together could result in the increased risk. It is also believed that an increased risk of certain cancers such as breast cancer is only associated with women who have taken HRT for five or more years.
Research also suggests that the risks associated with HRT increase with age. As a result, doctors are much more reluctant to suggest hormone therapy to women who are 60 years of age or older.
As you may imagine, more research is sorely needed to substantiate the risks or lack thereof considering hormone therapy fully. Researchers continue to examine every type of HRT in an attempt to provide women with the safest and most effective option for menopausal treatment.
The most recent studies surrounding hormone therapy seem to suggest that the benefits of HRT outweigh the risks.
Women Who Should Avoid HRT
While HRT can be a hugely beneficial therapy for many women, not every woman is a candidate for hormone therapy. If you’re at heightened risk for certain cancers, or if you’re dealing with any of the conditions below, you should avoid hormone therapy entirely.
- Heart disease
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure
- Blood clots
- Breast, endometrial or ovarian cancer
Deciding if HRT is Right For You
If you aren’t at high risk for side effects related to hormone therapy, you may wish to consider HRT. For women who are nearing menopause, aren’t at heightened risk for cancer, heart disease or hypertension, HRT may be an effective way to not only treat the symptoms of menopause but also osteoporosis as well.
Doctors recommend taking the lowest possible effective dose of hormone therapy. That way, the patient receives the benefits of the drug while also reducing their risk for side effects. Like any major medication, you’ll want to consult with your doctor to fully understand the pros and cons of this therapy before you begin.
If you’re considering hormone replacement treatment, but are feeling uneasy about the risks associated with treatment, there are some alternatives you may want to consider. These alternatives may help you with the symptoms you’re dealing with, with less risk.
Changes in lifestyle can help to reduce the symptoms of menopause. For example, reducing consumption of alcohol, spicy food and caffeine can help reduce symptoms. Also, quitting smoking and getting regular exercise can have a positive effect on menopause symptoms.
Certain SSRI inhibiting antidepressants can also reduce the prevalence of hot flashes. Many women have reported that they have successfully reduced the appearance of their symptoms by using dietary supplements such as kava, ginseng and soy proteins.
Hormone replacement therapy has allowed countless women to make a smooth transition through menopause. While there is some evidence that suggests HRT may increase women’s risk for certain types of cancers, such as breast cancer, more research is being done to evaluate this and how to decrease those risks.
Recent studies suggest that the benefits of HRT may outweigh the potential side effects. Women who choose a hormone therapy routine should increase the frequency of checkups with their doctor to ensure that there are no major changes as a result of their therapy routine.
In any event, women who are considering a hormone therapy regimen must consult with their physician to come to a clear understanding about whether HRT is the right choice for them before beginning treatment.