Health and Fitness

What is Hormone Replacement Therapy?

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is a treatment used to relieve symptoms of menopause. It replaces the female hormones that are at a lower level as you experience menopause.

Oestrogen and progesterone are female hormones that play important roles in a woman’s body. Falling levels cause a range of physical and emotional symptoms, including hot flushes, mood swings, and vaginal dryness.

Added benefits of HRT

HRT reduces the risk of various chronic conditions that can affect postmenopausal women, including:

  • Diabetes – taking HRT around the time of menopause reduces a woman’s risk of developing diabetes
  • Osteoporosis – HRT prevents further bone density loss, preserving bone integrity and reducing the risk of fractures, but it is not usually recommended as the first choice of treatment for osteoporosis, except in younger postmenopausal women (under the age of 60)
  • Bowel cancer – HRT slightly reduces the risk of colorectal cancer (bowel cancer)
  • Cardiovascular disease – HRT has been shown to reduce cardiovascular disease markers when used around the time of menopause.       

How to get started on HRT

Speak to your local GP practice if you’re interested in starting HRT.

You can usually begin HRT as soon as you start experiencing menopausal symptoms and will not usually need to take any tests first. However, a blood test to measure your hormone levels may be carried out if you’re aged 40 to 45. Blood tests may also be carried out to help diagnose suspected premature menopause if you’re under 40 and have menopausal symptoms.

Types of HRT

There are two main types of HRT:

  • Combined HRT (estrogen and progestogen) – for women who still have their womb
  • Oestrogen-only HRT – for women who have had their womb removed in a hysterectomy

There are several ways that estrogen can be taken, including:

  • tablets – which can be taken by mouth
  • a patch that you stick on your skin
  • an implant – under local anesthetic
  • estrogen gel – which is applied to the skin and absorbed
  • estrogen spray—which is applied to the forearm

Understanding the benefits and risks

Recent findings show that although not completely risk-free, HRT remains the most effective solution for helping with symptoms of menopause and is also effective for the prevention of osteoporosis. It may also provide protection against heart disease.

When deciding whether to have hormone replacement therapy (HRT), it is also important to understand the risks.

If you would like to start HRT, it is a good idea to have an initial discussion with your GP or practice nurse at your local primary care practice. They can discuss the risks and benefits with you, so you can decide what is right for you.

Every woman experiences menopause differently, so there is no way of knowing how long symptoms will last and how long HRT will need to be taken. Some women who have continued symptoms into the longer term may need to keep taking HRT to help with symptoms and good quality of life.

Other treatments for menopausal symptoms

Studies have shown that some prescription medications can reduce hot flushes and sweat. 

The herbal medicine, black cohosh, may take the edge off hot flushes and sweats, but there is no data to support long-term use. There is also a rare liver condition that may be associated with the use of black cohosh. 

Other complementary and alternative medicines have not been shown to be effective for menopausal symptoms when compared with. or placebo treatment in research studies. 

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