Everything You Need to Know About Hormone Replacement Therapy

Hormone replacement, Women's Health | May 8, 2014 | Author: The Super Pharmacist

women, menopause, hormone replacement

Everything You Need to Know About Hormone Replacement Therapy

It can be hard to know what to do when faced with the decision as to whether or not to begin hormone replacement therapy. While it has its benefits, it’s hard to ignore all of the information that has surfaced in recent years regarding the possible risks associated with HRT. Making an informed decision is crucial and in order to help you do that, we have compiled a list of the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy along with other factors that should influence your decision.

What is Hormone Replacement Therapy?

Hormone replacement therapy, just as the name suggests, is medication to replace the female hormones that the body stops making after menopause, oestrogen and progesterone. After menopause, oestrogen continues to play a role in different functions, including bone density, controlling skin temperature, and keeping the vagina lubricated. The decrease in oestrogen that happens with menopause is the cause of menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats, vaginal dryness, loss of libido, and bone loss that can lead to osteoporosis. Progesterone protects the lining of the womb and though the decreased levels of the hormone after menopause don’t contribute to menopause symptoms the same way, it does raise a woman’s risk of endometrial cancer. This is why it is often combined in hormone replacement therapy.

The Pros of Hormone Replacement Therapy

Hormone replacement therapy does offer some benefits, including:Hot flushes

  • Relief from hot flushes and night sweats
  • Lowered risk of vaginal dryness
  • Ease of vaginal symptoms, such as dryness and discomfort during intercourse
  • Lower risk of libido issues
  • Bone protection for a lower risk of osteoporosis and fractures

When hormone replacement therapy is started early into menopause, it may also:

  • Lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke
  • Lower your risk of dementia

The Cons of Hormone Replacement Therapy

Recent studies have found some serious risks associated with hormone replacement therapy. Some of the possible risks include:

  • Increased risk of blood clots, including deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism
  • Increased risk of breast and cervical cancer
  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke when started later into menopause

Hormone replacement may also cause some unwanted side effects. These vary from person to person and can include:

  • Bloating and water retention
  • Breast tenderness
  • Headaches
  • Depression and mood changes

Factors to Consider When Weighing the Pros and Cons

As a general rule, your doctor will prescribe the lowest possible dose needed to control your symptoms if you do decide to take HRT. Some of the risks discussed are dependent on the amount of time that a woman is taking the hormones and many doctors agree that taking a low dose for a short period of time may offer more benefits than risks. For many women, just 1 to 3 years on HRT is enough time to get through the worst of the symptoms. Regular follow-up with your physician will also help to ensure that the benefits continue to outweigh any risks as well as keep you abreast of any possible complications. There are several factors that influence the pros and cons of hormone replacement therapy that you and your doctor will need to consider when deciding what’s best for you, such as:

  • Your age
  • How long you have been menopausal
  • Whether or not menopause is natural or the result of surgery
  • Your symptoms and the severity
  • Your personal and family history of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and blood clots
  • Your bone health

Depending on your symptoms and their severity, you may be able to relieve your symptoms with treatments other than hormone replacement therapy. For instance, vaginal dryness and painful intercourse can be treated using special lubricant or a hormone replacement cream vaginal cream. Lifestyle and diet changes may also help to lessen the symptoms of menopause. Speaking to your doctor about all of your options is important so that you can make the right choice based on your specific needs.

References:

  1. Mayo Clinic Staff. (January 2013). Menopause. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved on April 19, 2014, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menopause/basics/definition/con-20019726
  2. Hormone Replacement Therapy. (November 2012). NHS UK. Retrieved on April 19, 2014, from http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hormone-replacement-therapy/pages/introduction.aspx
  3. Dr Tim Kenny, Dr Louise Newson, Prof Cathy Jackson. (October 2013). Menopause and HRT. Patient.co.uk. Retrieved on April 19, 2014, from http://www.patient.co.uk/health/menopause-and-hrt-leaflet
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