Everything You Need To Know About Hormone Replacement Therapy

What is Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and how does it work?

HRT, also referred to as hormone therapy, replaces estrogen and/or progesterone that the body no longer makes in adequate amounts. The goal of hormonal replacement therapy is to treat or prevent diseases associated with menopause and aging. In general, HRT replaces the same types and amounts of hormones that your body would normally produce.

HRT does not provide immediate relief from menopausal symptoms. For best results, hormone therapy should be started at the first sign of menopause or prior to surgical removal of both ovaries (surgical menopause). The purpose is to restore a woman's hormone balance before symptoms become severe.

HRT is prescribed for the short-term or long-term treatment of menopause symptoms in women who still produce some estrogen and/or progesterone, but not enough to prevent uncomfortable symptoms of menopause from occurring. HRT can also be used as a treatment to reduce the risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, and other conditions.

HRT is not necessary for women who have had a hysterectomy because their ovaries are no longer producing hormones. Many of the menopausal symptoms that HRT treats are also treated with alternative therapies. These therapies include diet, exercise, and herbal supplements. Talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy as well as alternative therapies.

What are some common signs/symptoms of menopause that HRT can help treat?

Hot flashes and night sweats: These often occur when estrogen levels decrease rapidly or dramatically at or near the onset of menopause. When estrogen levels are reduced, your body can no longer counteract the normal rise in core body temperature that occurs during the day or night. Sweating may not be noticeable if it occurs while you are sleeping.

Sometimes hot flashes and night sweats are so severe that they wake women up from sleep. Hot flashes last for a few minutes, and night sweats can wake you up from a sound sleep. Hot flashes that occur while sleeping are sometimes called "sleep disturbances."

Sleep disturbances: A woman may have trouble falling asleep because of hot flashes or night sweats. Some women with severe menopausal symptoms will sleep in a cool room, wear several layers of clothing to bed, or use a fan or air conditioner to stay cool. Other women will sleep with light bedding in a warm room.

Weight gain: Hot flashes may cause fluid retention, especially around the waist and thighs. This weight gain can be due to an increase in body fat or water retention, but is often temporary.

Benefits of Hormone Replacement Therapy

  • Prevention or reversal of osteoporosis, a bone disease common in postmenopausal women.

  • Prevention of heart disease and other health conditions.

  • Relief from hot flashes and night sweats.

  • Improved concentration and memory.

  • Relief from vaginal dryness.

  • Prevention of mood swings, irritability, and other emotional changes related to menopause.

  • Reduces the risk of developing endometrial cancer (cancer of the lining of the uterus).

Risks of Hormone Replacement Therapy

  • Increased risk of breast cancer.

  • Risk of Gallbladder disease.

  • Stroke.

  • Blood clots in the legs or lungs.

  • Risk of heart disease for women with a history of high blood pressure.

  • Increased risk of dementia.

  • Risk of developing diabetes.

Unknown or unlisted side effects and possible risks should be discussed by your doctor before the first prescription is written, during regular checkups, and as new information becomes available.

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