With about 8 out of every 10 women experiencing emotional and physical symptoms of menopause, including hot flushes, insomnia and night sweats, could hormone replacement therapy (HRT) be the answer to the debilitating effects?
What is Hormone Replacement Therapy?
This is a type of medication used to relieve the symptoms of menopause in women. It replaces progesterone and oestrogen (the female sex hormones), which experience a drop towards the start of menopause. Once replaced, the effects of menopause are minimised.
Hormone replacement therapy has also been found to prevent osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. However, it also has risks associated with it – these depend on the dosage, type of hormone therapy employed and period it is used.
What are the Benefits of Hormone Therapy?
The benefits of HRT vary, depending on the preparations of oestrogen, which may be in the form of low dose vaginal or systemic hormone therapy.
Systemic Hormone Therapy
These prescription medications come in the form of gel, spray, cream, skin patch, or tablet. They are the best in controlling the effects of menopause. Oestrogen is also great at easing the menopausal symptoms in the vagina, including itching, burning, dryness and discomfort during intercourse.
When combined with progesterone, this therapy can reduce the risks of colon cancer. Some studies also show that systemic hormone therapy can lower the risk of heart disease. This therapy is also good at protecting the bones against osteoporosis, which is a bone-thinning disease often associated with menopause.
Low-Dose Vaginal Products
These medications come in the form of tablets, rings or creams. They are excellent at treating problems caused by menopause in the vagina. They also treat urinary problems common during menopause. These, however, are not effective for night sweats, osteoporosis and hot flushes.
If you still have your uterus intact, your GP may choose to prescribe oestrogen together with progestin or progesterone. This is because when oestrogen is not well balanced by progesterone, it tends to encourage the growth of the uterus’ lining. As a result, there is an increased risk of uterine cancer. If you do not have your uterus, you will not be required to take progestin.
The Risk of Hormone Therapy
The hormone used in this treatment can present side effects in some women. For most, the side effects are temporary and get better within three months of use. However, this treatment can also heighten the risk of certain conditions, including:
- Blood clots
- Heart disease
- Breast cancer
Various studies show that these risks depend on the age of the woman. The risk may also depend on whether the treatment is administered in the form of oestrogen alone or alongside progesterone. The type of oestrogen and the dose could also be a determinant.
Other factors, such as a particular family medical history, your risks of cardiovascular disease and cancer risk, could also come into play. Your GP should look into these factors to determine the best option for you.
Are You a Hormone Therapy Candidate?
HRT is one of the most effective treatments of symptoms associated with menopause. If you are healthy and fall under the following category, you are a candidate:
- Have lost bone mass and other medications are not helping
- Experience menopausal symptoms
- Your periods stopped appearing before the age of 40
Should you experience early menopause and fail to take oestrogen therapy until the age of 45, you may be at a higher risk of:
- Depression and anxiety
- Heart disease
If you have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, breast cancer, stroke, unexplained vaginal bleeding, blood clots in the lungs or legs, or liver disease, avoid hormone therapy. Your doctor should discuss strategies that can help you cope with your menopausal symptoms. This could include a change of lifestyle and the use of other medications apart from hormone therapy.