Hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, headaches, and vaginal dryness can be a nightmare for women navigating menopause. Most of us would do pretty much anything to skip or at least minimize these unpleasant side effects as “the change of life” bears down on us.
Fortunately, many women starting menopause can avoid these disruptive and uncomfortable issues that occur during this period of their lives. The solution is called hormone replacement therapy or HRT.
Hormone replacement therapy is an effective solution to prevent unwanted side effects related to menopause. Since the early 1960s, HRT has helped millions of women successfully navigate their midlife change without hot flashes, crying jags, and restless sleep.
In addition, HRT has improved the sex life of many as vaginal dryness does not become an issue during menopause while on this treatment, helping women to maintain a healthy libido. Our sex lives can thank HRT for this added bonus.
So what exactly is hormone replacement therapy, and what do you need to know about it before deciding to go ahead with this treatment? Here are the nuts and bolts of HRT so that you can make a knowledgeable decision about choosing HRT.
What is Hormone Replacement Therapy?
HRT is a medicine that contains female hormones such as estrogen and progestin that replace these hormones that are dwindling in our bodies due to menopause. Thus the term estrogen replacement therapy is used interchangeably with HRT when discussing menopause treatment.
What Are the Benefits of HRT?
Besides helping you to avoid the more common unpleasantries of menopause, such as hot flashes and mood swings, HRT can assist your body in other less noticeable ways.
One of the most significant benefits of HRT is that this medication helps to protect your bones from bone loss associated with osteoporosis and fractures. Additionally, studies have shown that HRT offers protection against colorectal cancer.
Other benefits of HRT include:
- Skin remains more supple
- Muscles deteriorate slower as you age
- Hair loss lessens
- Decreased fatigue associated with menopause
You should generally feel and look better while on HRT, which will boost your self-confidence and overall well-being.
Is HRT a Pill?
Hormone replacement therapy can be prescribed in pill form and may be the most common way to take HRT.
However, there are many forms of HRT, so it is important to discuss how you are adjusting to your med since other options are available if you have any difficulties taking it.
Other forms of HRT are:
- Skin patches
- Vaginal ring
- Vaginal cream
- Skin gel or spray
- Low-dose vaginal insert (pill or ovule)
Can All Women Take HRT?
Regrettably, women with certain medical conditions are not candidates for this life-altering treatment. Discussing options with your provider will help you decide if you can safely take HRT.
Contraindications for HRT are:
- Family history of hormone-positive cancer
- Previous or present breast cancer
- Previous or current ovarian cancer
- Surgical removal of the uterus
- Endometrial cancer
- History of blood clots
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding (may be a consideration)
- History of stroke
In addition, women who smoke are more at risk for side effects of HRT than nonsmokers.
Low-dose vaginal inserts may be an option for some women who can not take traditionally prescribed HRT. However, due to the lower dose of estrogen in this form of HRT, many of the unpleasant side effects of menopause may still be present.
Is HRT Safe?
Over the past 20 years, there has been much controversy over the safety of HRT. Initially hailed as the panacea for suffering menopausal women in the 60s, by 2002, the luster of HRT had taken a nose dive. With the side effects of the drug and the press feeding the hysteria over negative HRT studies, many became skeptical about taking this type of treatment. Women were back to “sweating it out” and gritting their teeth through menopause.
Fortunately, new research has shown HRT to be safer in some instances than the side effects of menopause, especially when started before the age of 60 or within 10 years of menopause (per Mayo Clinic).
Hormone replacement therapy is now back in vogue, with many women enjoying the benefits of this wonder drug.
Are There Side Effects to HRT?
When considering HRT, it is crucial to evaluate the pros and cons of this medication carefully. Your provider is the best person to help you make a decision regarding HRT to best suit your individual circumstances, as this type of therapy does come with numerous risks.
Potential risks of HRT are:
- Heart disease
- Breast cancer
- Blood clots
For some women, risks may be low, but your physician will need to review your family and medical history before helping you to decide if HRT is a wise option for you.
A Word of Caution
It is essential to consult and stay in touch with your physician when considering HRT. In addition, be aware that taking HRT beyond the period recommended by your doctor may be dangerous. Risk factors of HRT increase as you age, so judiciously taking HRT only as long as necessary is an essential element of your menopause treatment plan.
Although HRT may not be for everyone, for those who can take this treatment, you can plan to enjoy life to the fullest during menopause without worrying too much about going through the craziness associated with this mid-life change.
For women who can not take HRT, you may want to discuss natural remedies to ease your symptoms somewhat as you go through menopause. Either way, a period-free life awaits you on the other side of menopause, which offers new freedom you will surely enjoy.
Donna Reese is a family nurse practitioner and RN who enjoys translating complex medical material into relatable content. She is a breast cancer survivor, mother, and wife who uses her nursing and everyday life experiences to write from the heart about women’s and family health topics, parenting issues, autoimmune conditions, and nursing education. Author of Donna’s story in the book Gameplan for Aging – Your Four Quarters of Life, Donna’s work can also be found in Health Digest, Wonderbaby, Genes 2teens, university nursing department sites, and many others. You can find her at http://nursedonnareese.com/.