Deciding about Hormone Therapy
Hormone therapy (HT) uses one or more hormones to treat symptoms of menopause.
Menopause and Hormones
- A woman's ovaries stop making eggs. They also produce less estrogen and progesterone.
- Menstrual periods slowly stop over time.
- Periods may become more closely or more widely spaced. This pattern may last for 1-3 years once you start skipping periods.
Menstrual flow may come to a sudden halt after surgery to remove the ovaries, chemotherapy or certain hormone treatments for breast cancer.
Menopause symptoms may last 5 or more years, including:
- Hot flashes and sweats, usually at their worst for the first 1-2 years after your last period
- Vaginal dryness
- Sleep problems
- Mood swings
- Less interest in sex
Hormone therapy can be used to treat menopause symptoms. Hormone therapy uses the hormones estrogen and progestin, a type of progesterone. Sometimes testosterone is also added.
Hormone therapy comes in the form of a pill, patch, injection, vaginal cream or tablet, or ring.
When considering Hormone therapy, learn about how it can help you. Taking hormones can have some risks.
Benefits of Hormone Therapy
When taking hormones, hot flashes and night sweats tend to occur less often and can even go away over time. Slowly reducing hormone therapy may make these symptoms less bothersome.
Hormone therapy can also be very helpful in relieving:
- Problems sleeping
- Vaginal dryness
- Moodiness and irritability
At one time, hormone therapy was used to help prevent thinning bones. That is no longer the case. Your doctor can prescribe other medicines to treat osteoporosis.
Studies show that hormone therapy does not help treat:
- Heart disease
- Urinary incontinence
- Alzheimer's disease
Risks of Hormone Therapy
Be sure to talk with your doctor about the risks of hormone therapy. The risks may vary depending on age, medical history and other factors.
Taking hormone therapy may increase your risk for blood clots. Your risk of blood clots is also higher if you're obese or smoke.
Your risk of blood clots may be lower if you use estrogen skin patches instead of pills.
Your risk is lower if you use vaginal creams and tablets and the low-dose estrogen ring.
- Most experts believe that taking hormone therapy for up to 5-years does not increase your risk of breast cancer.
- Taking estrogen and progesterone together for longer than 3-5 years increases your risk of breast cancer.
- Taking hormone therapy can make the mammogram image of your breasts look cloudy. This can make it hard to find breast cancer early.
- Taking estrogen alone does not carry as high a risk for breast cancer as estrogen and progesterone together.
ENDOMETRIAL (UTERINE) CANCER
- Taking estrogen alone increases your risk for endometrial cancer.
- Taking progestin with estrogen seems to protect against this cancer. So if you have a uterus, you should take HT with both estrogen and progestin.
- You cannot get endometrial cancer if you don't have a uterus. So it is safe and recommended to use estrogen alone in this case.
Hormone therapy is safest when taken before age 60 or within 10- years after starting menopause.
- HT may increase the risk of heart disease in older women.
- HT may increase the risk in women who began using estrogen more than 10-years after their last period.
Women who take only estrogen and who take estrogen with progesterone have an increased risk of stroke. Using the estrogen patch instead of an oral pill decreases this risk. However, it is still increased compared to not taking any hormones at all.
Taking hormone therapy may increase your risk of gallstones.
Making a Decision about Hormone Therapy
Every woman is different. Some women aren't bothered by menopause symptoms. For others, symptoms are severe and affect their lives significantly.
If menopause symptoms bother you, talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of HT. You and your doctor can decide if hormone therapy is right for you. Your doctor should know your medical history before prescribing HT.
You should not take hormone therapy if you:
- Have a history of blood clots in your veins or lungs
- Have had breast or endometrial cancer
- Have had a stroke or heart attack
- Have liver disease
Certain lifestyle changes can help you adjust to changes of menopause without taking hormones. They can also help protect your bones, improve your heart health, and help you stay fit.
However, for many women, taking hormone therapy is a safe way to treat menopause symptoms, as long as you take it:
- No longer than 5-years
- At the lowest possible dose
When to Call the Doctor
If you have vaginal bleeding or other unusual symptoms during hormone therapy, call your doctor.
Be sure to continue seeing your doctor for regular checkups.