Hormone replacement therapy can be an effective treatment for the symptoms of menopause. Unfortunately, there are some serious risks associated with this type of treatment.
Hormone replacement therapy is a medical treatment in which a woman takes female hormones in order to relieve the unpleasant effects of menopause. Estrogen is the primary hormone used for this purpose, though many women take a combination of estrogen and progesterone therapy instead. Though hormone replacement does offer many benefits, it also carries risks that every menopausal woman should consider.
One risk of hormone replacement therapy is cancer. The risk of developing breast cancer is slightly increased for women who take hormone replacement therapy for an extended period. However, most doctors consider it relatively safe for women who take it for five years or less.
For many, a more pressing concern is endometrial cancer. This type of cancer develops in the lining of a woman’s uterus. When compared to women who do not take estrogen, women who opt for estrogen-only therapy are much more likely to develop this type of cancer. For this reason, some doctors recommend a combination of estrogen and progesterone. The progesterone can help to lower the increased endometrial cancer risk that goes along with estrogen replacement therapy. Additionally, women who’ve had hysterectomies are not vulnerable to endometrial cancer.
2. Heart Disease
Studies of estrogen’s effect on the heart have been conflicting. Some studies have shown estrogen use to be healthy for the heart, decreasing heart disease risk. Others, however, have indicated that the opposite is true, revealing that hormone replacement therapy may actually increase risk. There are even some studies that failed to show significant change in heart disease risk for women who opt for hormone replacement therapy.
Many doctors are hesitant to prescribe estrogen replacement for their patients, given the uncertainty of its effects. Sometimes, however, doctors determine that the benefits of hormone replacement therapy outweigh the risks. In such cases, estrogen therapy may be safest for use in women who are under 60.
3. Blood Clots
Estrogen replacement therapy is known to be a risk factor in the development of abnormal blood clots. The risk is higher for women who are taking birth control pills, which usually excludes menopausal women. Women who smoke and take estrogen face much higher risk than those who do not.
Hormone replacement therapy increases a woman’s risk of having a stroke. This may be tied to the increased risk of blood clots a woman has when she’s taking estrogen. Essentially, a stroke occurs after a blood clot blocks an artery that transports blood from the heart. It can also occur if a blood vessel, which transports blood through the body, breaks. In either case, blood flow to the brain is impaired and brain damage may occur.
5. Gallbladder Disease
Hormone replacement therapy may increase a woman’s risk of developing gallstones. This risk is associated with taking progesterone combined with estrogen rather than estrogen alone. Gallstones are digestive fluids that harden and form stones in the gallbladder.
6. Side Effects
Some women develop side effects when taking hormone replacement medications. Among these side effects are headaches, nausea, sore breast tissue, mood changes and bloating. Some women experience irregular vaginal bleeding as well.
If you are considering hormone replacement therapy, discuss your options with your doctor. Whether or not it’s best for you may depend on your symptoms, age and overall health status. You may find that your individual risk is low enough to warrant giving this treatment a try, or you may decide to use a safer alternative.