Menopause and hormones: What you need to know

Menopause may be more openly discussed now than it was in past generations, but for many modern women there is still confusion and a lack of information about Menopause treatments such as hormone therapy.

Menopause marks the end of female reproduction, and although women know that they will experience menopause, they may not understand what hormone therapy is and how it is used to treat menopause symptoms.

Menopause can be a challenging time for women, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) reports that three out of four women experience hot flashes during menopause, while other symptoms can include mood swings, sleep disturbances, loss of libido and vaginal dryness.

What Is Hormone Therapy?

Menopause causes imbalances in a women’s hormones, and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is the most effective treatment for common menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness.

In essence, hormone therapy uses female hormones — Estrogen and Progesterone — to treat common symptoms of menopause and aging. Doctors can prescribe it during or after menopause. HRT replaces hormones your body no longer makes after your regular periods have ceased. Hormone therapy can be administered via pills, patches, creams, pellets, sprays or a vaginal ring.

The risks associated with some hormone treatments have been well publicized in reports from the Women’s Health Initiative and other studies. Media coverage about additional benefits, outside of menopause symptom relief, is often contradictory. The topic is a complex one which requires further study.

The type of hormone treatment you use, and the risks and benefits, will depend on your individual circumstances, such as how long it has been since you entered menopause, your history of breast or uterus cancer, and whether you have had a hysterectomy.

A combination therapy of Estrogen/Progesterone/Progestin Hormone Therapy is usually prescribed for women who still have their uterus. This is because taking estrogen without progesterone raises your risk for cancer of the endometrium, the lining of the uterus. Progesterone lowers that risk by thinning the lining.

For women who have had a hysterectomy, the surgery to remove the uterus, a low dose of just Estrogen is often prescribed.

Hormone Therapy Risks:

Like most medications, there is a risk of side effects associated with Hormone Therapy.  The type of drug, the way it’s taken, and when treatment started all play a role in the level of risk, while personal circumstances and health history are also important factors.

  • Like the birth control pill, both estrogen therapy and estrogen with progestogen therapy increase the risk of blood clots in the legs and lungs with oral estrogen. The risk of blood clotting increases with age.
  • Some studies by the Women’s Health Initiative have shown an increased risk of breast cancer after five or more years of continuous estrogen/progestogen therapy. The increased risk decreases after hormone therapy is stopped.
  • There is still a lack of data around the risks of hormone therapy for women who have had breast cancer. Non-hormonal therapies should be the first approach in managing menopausal symptoms in breast cancer survivors.

The level of dosage and length of treatment, along with your personal health circumstances, will determine whether the risks outweigh the benefits of hormone treatment.

Hormone Therapy Alternatives:

  • Alternative approaches to treating menopausal symptoms include certain types of antidepressants, yoga, or dietary supplements.
  • Relizen is another option. It is a safe, effective, and non-hormonal dietary supplement made from a proprietary blend of Swedish flower pollen extract.

More Information About Menopause and Hormone Therapy:

Please discuss the specifics of your situation with your AOA provider. Call Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com.

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