Many women are bothered by menopausal symptoms that happen due to the loss of estrogens caused by menopause. If you are one of those women, you know the symptoms well. They may include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and night sweats, mood swings, just to name a few.
Very basically, traditional Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), increases estrogen and progestin levels in the body. By "traditional" we mean the use of synthetic hormones often prescribed by OB/GYNs. There is still a lot of disagreement and conflicting evidence with regard to the safety of HRT – with a lot of pushing and shoving from the drug companies who have much to gain, or loose.
Controversy and all, there are many women with severe symptoms who have been helped with the use of hormone replacement therapy, especially those who have had complete hysterectomies and are at risk for osteoporosis.
The choice should lie with each individual woman, after careful research and consultation with a qualified medical professional. Every woman is different - from the severity of the symptoms they encounter, to their medical history and personal beliefs - so it would follow that the course of action in alleviating any discomfort could vary greatly from one woman to another.
So what are the benefits of HRT?
The combination (estrogen and progestin) is said to improve symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal lubrication, mood and concentration problems. It is also said to protect against endometrial cancer, however it is not needed for women who have no uterus. The risk of osteoporosis and colon cancer can be reduced by HRT, although there are other means by which to reduce the risk to these conditions.
What are the risks?
HRT is known to be the cause of a small increase in the risk of breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, blood clots, or dementia. Side effects of HRT may include pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis, increased risks of heart attack, stroke and abnormal mammogram results. The degree of risk increases with long term use. This is why the FDA recommends HRT only for a short term, using the lowest effective dose possible.
Some of the side effects of Estrogen include headaches, nausea, weight gain, breast tenderness, leg cramps, irregular vaginal bleeding, darkening of skin on the face, and gallstones.
Note - Estrogen Only Therapy (ERT) has been known to greatly increase the risk of uterine cancer, which is why most doctors do not recommend it alone as a therapy. Progestin side effects include breast pain or tenderness, mood changes, bloated feeling, diarrhea, dizziness, drowsiness.
Who should avoid HRT?
Those who should not use HRT include women with a history of breast or endometrial cancer, liver disease, heart attack, stroke, pulmonary embolism (blood clot in lungs) or deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in legs).