Before, during and after menopause, women experience hormonal changes that can lead to a range of discomforting symptoms, which can decrease their quality of life. Hormone replacement therapy can supplement a woman’s hormone production, effectively helping to alleviate many of those symptoms.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which is sometimes simply called “hormone therapy” (HT) or “menopausal hormone therapy” (MHT), is primarily a treatment that balances hormones in women as they undergo menopause. You may also hear of hormone replacement treatments that are used by individuals undergoing a sex change or in male hormonal therapy.
Among the various HRT treatments, medications may contain only estrogen, both progesterone and estrogen, and occasionally testosterone, according to Medical News Today. HRT effectively helps relieve common symptoms of menopause, including sweating and hot flashes, while also reducing the risk of osteoporosis.
Menopause (or its pre-stage) often starts when women are in their late 40s or early 50s. Other circumstances – including certain cancer treatments, a hysterectomy or a history of smoking – can trigger the process to start earlier.
How Does Menopause Affect Women?
Estrogen and progesterone are critical hormones in the female reproductive system that help stimulate the release of eggs and prepare the womb for egg implantation, respectively. When the egg supply diminishes over time – or as women age – estrogen production also decreases.
The menopause process often takes place over several years and can be conceptualized as three separate phases. Perimenopause, which lasts, on average, four years but can fluctuate anywhere from three to 10 years, is when changes begin taking place but you continue to menstruate. Next, after your final period takes place, you are technically in menopause. The average age for the start of this phase is 51 years old, and it generally lasts a full year. Then, you enter the postmenopausal phase, during which symptoms are still present but decline over a number of years. Throughout this entire experience, your changing hormone levels can cause some health risks and severe discomfort. You also face a heightened risk of osteoporosis, which continues even after menopause.
Common symptoms throughout the three phases of menopause include:
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Irregular periods and lower fertility
- Sleep issues
- Urinary problems
- Thinning hair
How Can HRT Help?
While menopause is a natural part of the aging process that no treatment can prevent, HRT can provide relief for many of the common symptoms experienced by women. The therapy comes in several different forms, including creams, gels, pills, skin patches or as a vaginal ring. Some treatments, such as Continuous HRT or Cyclical HRT, use a combination of methods for delivering the hormones.
Based on your age, medical history, health status and other factors, your doctor can work with you to choose an HRT that is appropriate. For instance, according to the Mayo Clinic, systemic estrogen is the most-effective treatment for menopausal symptoms, but if you haven’t had your uterus removed, a doctor typically will prescribe progesterone or progestin alongside estrogen so as to not stimulate growth of the uterus lining and increase the risk of uterine cancer. It may take a while and a bit of trial and error to see how your body responds to certain methods and select the correct treatment for you.
While HRT can significantly reduce symptoms related to menopause, there are other at-home treatments you can try in tandem with the therapy, according to Medical News Today. Common practices include exercising regularly, sleeping in a well-ventilated or cool room, using a bedroom fan or pillows with cooling gel, not smoking, and wearing loose clothing.
Although many women safely undergo HRT, especially if treatment is started before the age of 60 or within 10 years of menopause, it is best to talk with your physician about your specific circumstances to make an informed medical decision. If you are experiencing unbearable menopausal symptoms, don’t hesitate to contact the offices of Dr. Michael Rotman – located in Murray Hill or Lawrence, New York – or schedule an appointment through our online booking tool.
“What you need to know about HRT” Medical News Today, published May 25, 2017. Accessed online 10-10-18 at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/181726.php/