Menopause is marked by hormonal fluctuations and other changes that can produce unpleasant symptoms. Some women use hormone replacement therapy to not only relieve their symptoms, but also lower certain health risks.
When a woman takes hormone replacement therapy, she takes estrogen, a female hormone, to help restore her hormones to pre-menopausal levels. Hormones may offer some benefits, including symptom relief, but they also carry risks, including an increased risk of cancer. Still, some women and their doctors find that the benefits outweigh the risks, especially for short-term use.
1. Relief of Menopause Symptoms
One of the primary benefits of hormone replacement therapy is the reduction of menopause symptoms. If you have been struggling with such symptoms as hot flashes, excessive sweating during the night, vaginal dryness, pain during sexual intercourse and insomnia, you may find hormone replacement therapy helpful. It may also prove helpful for dealing with mood swings and irritability.
2. Bone Loss and Osteoporosis
It’s an unfortunate fact of life that people experience at least some level of bone loss as they age. Menopause just serves to make matters worse, increasing your rate of bone loss and putting you more at risk of developing osteoporosis, a degenerative bone condition. Bone loss often leads to decreased bone density, which is a common risk factor in those who go on to develop osteoporosis.
Fortunately, there are treatments for osteoporosis, but the damage caused by the condition can still spell major problems for menopausal women. Osteoporosis weakens a woman’s bones, causing them to become brittle and more likely to break. If you have this condition, even a minor fall or accident could result in major bone damage. In fact, some women with severe forms of osteoporosis actually experience fractures after an episode of coughing.
Lowered estrogen levels may be contributor to the bone loss that occurs in menopause; your doctor may recommend hormone replacement therapy to slow the thinning of your bones and even help to make them stronger and thicker. Since estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy can increase a woman’s risk of developing endometrial cancer, your doctor may recommend a combination of progestin and estrogen replacement therapy. While the estrogen helps your bones, the progestin may help to prevent cancerous cells from developing in the lining of your uterus.
3. Lowered Heart Disease Risk
Research concerning heart disease and hormone replacement therapy has shown the hormone replacement can decrease a woman’s risk of heart disease during and after menopause. This can be an important benefit, as a woman’s risk of disease rises with age and worsens during menopause. Researchers have linked the rising risk with dropping levels of estrogen, which contributes to the narrowing and hardening of a menopausal woman’s arteries. Sine hormone replacement therapy includes estrogen, it may prove helpful for the prevention of heart disease.
Unfortunately, there is some uncertainty regarding the benefits of menopausal hormone replacement on heart disease. Conflicting research has shown little-to-no benefit to taking hormones to prevent hear disease. In fact, some research has shown that taking estrogen may actually increase a woman’s risk of having a stroke. Taking a combination of estrogen and progestin may increase heart attack, stroke, and blood clots.
While hormone replacement therapy does provide some benefits, there are also risks to consider. To help their patients minimize risk, some doctors recommend only the temporary use of hormones during menopause. Ask your doctor what he recommends.