Hormone Replacement Therapy
HRT (also known as hormone therapy, menopausal hormone therapy, and estrogen replacement therapy) uses female hormones -- estrogen and progesterone -- to treat common symptoms of menopause and aging. Doctors can prescribe it during or after menopause.
After your period stops, your hormone levels fall, causing uncomfortable symptoms like hot flashes and vaginal dryness, and sometimes conditions like osteoporosis. HRT replaces hormones your body no longer makes. It’s the most effective treatment for menopause symptoms.
What are the benefits of hormone therapy?
The benefits of hormone therapy depend, in part, on whether you take systemic hormone therapy or low-dose vaginal preparations of estrogen.
Systemic hormone therapy. Systemic estrogen — which comes in pill, skin patch, gel, cream or spray form — remains the most effective treatment for relief of troublesome menopausal hot flashes and night sweats. Estrogen can also ease vaginal symptoms of menopause, such as dryness, itching, burning and discomfort with intercourse.
Low-dose vaginal products. Low-dose vaginal preparations of estrogen — which come in cream, tablet or ring form — can effectively treat vaginal symptoms and some urinary symptoms, while minimizing absorption into the body. Low-dose vaginal preparations do not help with hot flashes, night sweats or protection against osteoporosis.
Who should consider hormone therapy?
Despite the health risks, systemic estrogen is still the most effective treatment for menopausal symptoms. The benefits of hormone therapy may outweigh the risks if you're healthy and:
Experience moderate to severe hot flashes or other menopausal symptoms
Have lost bone mass and either can't tolerate or aren't benefitting from other treatments
Stopped having periods before age 40 (premature menopause) or lost normal function of your ovaries before age 40 (premature ovarian insufficiency)
Your age, type of menopause and time since menopause play a significant role in the risks associated with hormone therapy. Talk with your doctor about your personal risks.
If you take hormone therapy, how can you reduce risk?
Find the best product and delivery method for you.
Minimize the amount of medication you take.
Seek regular follow-up care.
Make healthy lifestyle choices.
The bottom line: Hormone therapy isn't all good or all bad
To determine if hormone therapy is a good treatment option for you, talk to your doctor about your individual symptoms and health risks. Be sure to keep the conversation going throughout your menopausal years.
As researchers learn more about hormone therapy and other menopausal treatments, recommendations may change. If you continue to have bothersome menopausal symptoms, review treatment options with your doctor on a regular basis.