Menopause is one of the most challenging phases in a woman’s life. It is associated with a broad spectrum of physiological and psychological changes in the body. Severe menopause symptoms, such as hot flashes, insomnia, mood disorders, and vaginal havoc, can wreak havoc in a woman’s personal and professional life.
While the onset of menopause is inevitable, there are various ways to manage the symptoms and continue to live a normal life. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is one of the most popular treatments used to manage menopause symptoms. It is particularly useful for women experiencing premature or early menopause (before the age of 50).
But in recent years, HRT has received flak due to its connection with increased risk of breast cancer and blood clots. In this blog, we will delve deeper into the concept of HRT and find out whether the associated risks outweigh its benefits. Let us get started.
What Is Hormone Replacement Therapy?
When a woman’s body goes through menopause, the ovaries stop producing estrogen and progesterone. The absence of these hormones causes a wide array of discomforting symptoms, such as:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Sleep disorders
- Vaginal dryness
- Thinning of vaginal walls
- Urinary infections
- Abnormal hair growth or hair fall
- Urinary incontinence
- Cramps and aches
Additionally, it caused severe mood swings that could take a toll on your mental health. It could also affect your sex drive, cognitive abilities, and memory.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), also known as menopause hormone therapy (MHT), is a type of treatment that restores normal estrogen and/or progesterone levels in your body through pills, patches, gels, implants, etc.
Broadly, HRT is classified into two categories:
- Systemic hormone therapy
- Low-dose vaginal hormone therapy
Systemic hormone therapy administers a higher dose of estrogen using pills, patches, gels, and sprays. It facilitates the absorption of estrogen throughout the body. It’s used to relieve common physical and mood-related symptoms of menopause.
On the other hand, low-dose vaginal therapy uses vaginal creams, gels, or rings to minimize the amount of estrogen absorbed in the body. It’s used to control the vaginal and urinary symptoms associated with menopause.
Women who have undergone hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) or oophorectomy (removal of one or both ovaries) only need estrogen replacement therapy. If your uterus and ovaries are both intact, you’ll need a combined treatment using estrogen and progesterone.
How Effective Is HRT?
According to real-world data collected and analyzed by StuffThatWorks, hormonal replacement therapy is the most effective and most commonly used treatment for menopause. The platform’s AI-generated treatment effectiveness analysis reports that HRT has worked extremely well for a quarter of the members who participated in the analysis.
It is particularly useful in controlling hot flashes and night sweats due to menopause. Apart from relieving the common symptoms of menopause, hormone therapy also helps preserve bone density and minimize the risk of osteoporosis. The timely administration of HRT can reduce the risk of developing diabetes, heart diseases, colorectal cancer, and dementia.
But the effectiveness of hormone therapy depends on various factors, including the age of onset of menopause and the age at which the treatment was started. Also, it may not be suitable for women who have a history of breast cancer, heart disease, clotting disorders, and liver ailments.
What Are the Side Effects of HRT?
Short-term side effects of hormone therapy include bloating, breast fullness and tenderness, water retention, and nausea. Some women also experience breakthrough bleeding at the onset of the treatment. Most of these side effects will subside within a few weeks after starting HRT, i.e. once your gynecologist has determined the correct dosage.
Contrary to popular belief, HRT doesn’t cause weight gain. While weight gain is common during menopause, it is likely the result of changing fat distribution in the body, as well as decreased physical activity and muscle tissue.
Long-Terms Risks of Hormone Therapy
Despite the high success rate of HRT, many women hesitate to start the treatment. That is because of the risks of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, venous thrombosis, heart attack, and strokes associated with the treatment.
But the chances of developing these disorders are quite low. For instance, women are only at risk of developing breast cancer due to HRT if they receive both estrogen and progesterone replacement therapy. Also, odds are further reduced if you use HRT for less than five years.
Similarly, women below the age of 60 who undergo HRT are vulnerable to venous thrombosis (formation of blood clots in the veins) during the first couple of years of treatment. But the risk is lower in women who receive estrogen replacement alone. Also, it is less common in women who receive treatment in the form of tibolone or non-oral patches.
Hormone Replacement Therapy Works (When Done the Right Way)
The likelihood of developing life-threatening conditions due to long-term use of hormone replacement therapy is quite low. It is extremely effective in alleviating most symptoms related to menopause.
If you are contemplating starting the treatment, make sure you consult an experienced gynecologist to find out whether it is the right fit for you. Also, let them guide you on the correct dosage and duration of treatment.