Hormone Replacement Therapy for Menopause: Is It Right For You?

women sitting in distress drinking coffee and holding head

Many women dread menopause. Maybe you’ve been told horror stories about hot flashes, night sweats, migraines and loss of libido. Your mother or sister or friends have warned you that it might go on for years and years. Menopause starts to sound awful, so you begin to consider hormone replacement therapy (HRT). But then you read that HRT will give you cancer, or that you’ll be given artificial hormones instead of natural ones. What should you do? Of course, the decision is yours, but here are some facts to help you make up your mind.

Menopause is Different for Everyone

Menopause is different for every woman. Especially perimenopause or the time leading up to and following on from your final period. It’s a natural process, not an illness. Some women sail through midlife with hardly any issues. Some women have mild symptoms for a short time. Some have distressing symptoms, but there’s no way to predict how bad they’ll be or how long they’ll last. So until symptoms actually occur, there’s no point worrying about it.

Stress Will Make Menopausal Symptoms Worse

Menopausal symptoms such as headaches or low sex drive are made worse by tiredness or anxiety. These symptoms can occur at the time in life when many women are getting nearer the top of the career ladder, dealing with teenage children or possibly caring for elderly parents. These events can have an impact on increasing stress levels. Exercise, meditation, a healthy diet and perhaps some therapy can be as beneficial as taking hormone replacements.

The Safety of Hormone Replacement Therapy

HRT was widely prescribed from the 1960s and 70s. In the 2000s, studies reported that women using HRT were more likely to develop breast cancer and heart disease. Media coverage suggested that women had a choice between experiencing distressing menopausal symptoms or risking a painful early death.
In the past few years, follow-up studies have found that although there are some risks, death rates among women who took HRT are not significantly higher than among those who didn’t. To put it into context, being overweight is 4 times more likely to be associated with developing breast cancer than using HRT.
Because there are still risks involved, you shouldn’t start HRT if you have a history of breast, ovarian or womb cancer. Other risks include untreated high blood pressure, history of blood clots, and liver disease. If your doctor decides that HRT isn’t suitable for you, ask about alternative treatments.

How is HRT Administered?

There are lots of ways to take HRT medicines. You can take pills (like the contraceptive pill), use creams or patches, pessaries or have a slow-release implant. What these all have in common is that they contain hormones to replace the ones your body no longer produces. These hormones, like all approved medicines, are produced in laboratories with strict quality control measures.

Starting Hormone Replacement Therapy

When you start HRT, your doctor will put you on a low dose and will only increase it if your symptoms don’t improve in the first few months. You should expect it to take at least 3 months, and possibly up to 1 year, to find the dosage and delivery method that’s right for you.
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