Hormone Therapy or Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is a treatment which involves the use of synthetic hormones to prevent and treat problems such as menopause and osteoporosis in women. Doctors have been using HRT for decades to ease symptoms such as menopause, hot flashes, mood swings and vaginal dryness in women. Although this therapy may be beneficial for many women, it has certain side effects and hence it is necessary to carefully evaluate its need.
Menopause is that time in a woman’s life when she stops having her period. This generally occurs between the age of 40 and 57 years. Around this time the ovaries gradually decrease production of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone, which are necessary for menstruation and fertility. The frequency of periods begins to vary until they stop completely. In some cases, periods may stop suddenly without any warning sign. The decline in hormone production results in symptoms which may vary from woman to woman. Some women may actually feel better getting rid of monthly periods and breast tenderness while others may experience troubling symptoms. The most common disturbing symptoms include unpredictable menstrual periods, hot flushes accompanied by sweating, sleep disturbance, vaginal dryness which leads to uncomfortable sexual activity and joint and muscle pain. Women may also experience anxiety, irritability, memory loss, mood swings and depression. The symptoms may last anywhere from a few months in some women to up to ten years or even more, in others. Hormone Replacement therapy is used to treat such menopause-related symptoms. HRT replaces the hormones that the ovaries stop producing at menopause with laboratory prepared ones to ease unpleasant menopausal symptoms in women.
What Is Hormone Replacement Therapy?
HRT is a treatment prescribed by a doctor to relieve the symptoms of menopause. It supplements the body with either estrogen alone or a combination of estrogen and progesterone during and after menopause.
Hormone replacement therapy works by replacing the hormones estrogen and progesterone that your body is no longer producing because of menopause. The estrogen used in HRT is obtained from plants or from the urine of pregnant horses. The progesterone used in HRT is actually progestin which is synthetic form of progesterone.
There are different types of HRT:
Estrogen-Alone Therapy — In this therapy doctors prescribe a low dose of estrogen to be taken daily as a pill or patch. It is usually prescribed for women who have had a hysterectomy.
When both estrogen and progesterone are used together, it is known as combined HRT. There are two types of combined HRT:
1) Cyclical Estrogen and Progesterone — Also known as Sequential HRT, this technique involves taking estrogen daily and adding progesterone for 10 to 14 days each month. It is recommended for women who are experiencing menopausal symptoms but are still getting their period. This treatment can cause regular monthly bleeding in women.
2) Daily Estrogen and Progesterone — Also known as Continuous Combined HRT, it is prescribed for women who have not had a period for over a year i.e. post-menopausal women. Irregular bleeding which stops subsequently after 6 to 8 months may be experienced during this treatment.
For women who have had breast cancer and experience hot flushes, a high dose of progesterone alone is sometimes prescribed. Testosterone, in the form of implants or patches, may also be used to treat loss of sexual drive. Although HRT is mostly taken as tablets; patches, gels, implants and nasal sprays are also widely available. This therapy is generally prescribed as the lowest possible dosage that is required to control the symptoms.
Although HRT can help alleviate the symptoms and discomfort associated with menopause, it has its own risks. Hence it is necessary to determine whether HRT is the best treatment for you by talking to your doctor about it.