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How Does Hormone Replacement Therapy Benefit a Woman Going Through Menopause

If you’re a 40-something woman, you probably considered getting Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) to help ease the symptoms that come with menopause. You’re not alone in this because the number of menopausal women getting prescriptions for estrogen or estrogen combined with progestin has steadily increased through the years. Even with the certain risks that come with getting HRT at a late stage, women are still willing to try the treatment to make the menopausal experience more bearable as her hormone levels shift.

So how does hormone replacement therapy benefit a woman going through menopause? As you get close to having menopause, your ovaries will produce less estrogen and progesterone, the two hormones that play a major role in your monthly cycle. These hormones are instrumental in the health not only of your vagina but also your heart and bones. HRT replaces the hormones that are lost during menopause and can ease the symptoms that come with it. 

What is Menopause

Menopause is a commonly used term to describe the physical changes that happen to a woman’s body either before or after she stops having her monthly periods. It is usually between ages 45 and 55. However, loss of estrogen can happen earlier if a woman can go through early menopause or if she had had her ovaries removed surgically. 

The ovaries gradually produce less estrogen as menopause approaches, which causes the menstrual cycle changes and other physical ones. Hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal discomfort (dryness and thinning of vaginal walls), and emotional changes are the most common symptoms of menopause. 

This stage is technically the end of a woman’s reproductive cycle, in which her ovaries are no longer producing eggs and she is on her last menstrual cycle. When a woman has not had her period for 6 to 12 consecutive months, that’s when the doctor can confirm menopause diagnosis.

Symptoms of Menopause

A woman may experience the following uncomfortable symptoms as she enters perimenopause, which is the period leading up to menopause. 

  • Short and irregular menstrual cycle
  • Night sweats and hot flushes
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Difficulty in sleeping
  • Hair loss or thinning hair
  • Weight gain
  • Chills
  • Vagina dryness or vaginal atrophy
  • Loss of breast fullness

The frequency and intensity of these symptoms will vary for each woman. A lot will have a more difficult time dealing with these symptoms so it’s understandable why HRT has become more popular because the treatment provides relief for these signs of discomfort.

What Hormone Replacement Therapy Can Do

Sad mid adult woman sitting on stairs in front of her house

HRT, also known as menopausal hormone therapy, is a popular option for women to manage the discomfort brought on by menopause symptoms. Its main purpose is to balance the body’s estrogen and progesterone levels during the perimenopausal period and beyond. HRT produces dramatic results in easing the discomfort of sweating and hot flashes. 

There are two types of HRT - estrogen therapy and combination therapy. 

1. Estrogen Replacement Therapy (ERT)

Systemic estrogen is the most effective treatment for night sweats and hot flashes, two of the most common complaints among women who are about to undergo menopause. ERT comes in various forms: pill, cream, gel, vaginal ring, skin patch, and spray form. These are an immense help when it comes to vaginal symptoms of menopause, such as dryness, itching, burning, and discomfort during intercourse.

ERT such as conjugated equine estrogen is recommended for patients who have had either hysterectomy, which is the surgical removal of the uterus, or bilateral oophorectomy, which also removes the ovaries.

Tablets are usually taken once a day on an empty stomach but the dosage can be increased if needed. Skin patches are placed in the abdominal area and have to be replaced every few days. Although some patches don’t really do anything for menopause symptoms, it is widely used to decrease the risk of having osteoporosis. 

Creams, gels, and sprays - these are topical estrogens. It’s meant to be absorbed and released into the bloodstream and usually applied on the arm, shoulder, or legs, depending on the brand and dosage. Vaginal estrogen is mostly for those who are experiencing vaginal discomforts, such as dryness, itching, or pain during sex. Creams can be applied directly into the vagina while vaginal rings have to be replaced every three months.

2. Combined Hormone Therapy

This therapy combines estrogen and progestin, which is the hormone progesterone made in the laboratory. This HRT type is for patients who still have their uterus intact. It’s known to lessen the risk of developing endometrial cancer while alleviating menopausal discomfort. It’s also taken in various ways.

Read more: How Long Should a Woman Be On Hormone Replacement Therapy?

Benefits of Menopausal Hormone Therapy

HRT is designed to lessen the physical effect of hormone imbalance brought on by menopause on a woman’s body and improve her overall disposition as well. It’s recommended for those who stopped having their periods before the age of 40 or those who are experiencing moderate to severe menopausal discomforts. The advantages of taking HRT include:

  • Decreasing the occurrence of night sweats, hot flashes, and vaginal dryness, as well as improving the quality of sleep, keeping mood swings and brain fog in control
  • Making the vagina more comfortable by easing dryness, thinning tissue, and painful sexual penetration
  • Keeps overactive bladder under control and lessens the occurrence of urinary tract infections
  • Reduces the risk of having certain diseases, such as heart disease, bone loss or osteoporosis, and endometrial cancer

For postmenopausal women, taking HRT can increase the elasticity of blood vessels, decrease the risk of fractures and osteoporosis, possible improvement of glucose levels, improved short-term menopause symptoms (hot flashes, mood swings, dry skin, vaginal dryness, insomnia, and irritable bowel. 

Effects of Estrogen on the Body

According to studies, estrogen level affects almost every organ or tissue in the body, including the blood vessels and the heart. Its positive effects on the cardiovascular system include increasing good cholesterol and decreasing the bad one, relaxing and dilating blood vessels to increase blood flow, and soaking up free radicals that can damage your arteries and other tissues.

How Safe is HRT

It’s not fair to describe HRT as safe or unsafe because its effects will depend on the type of hormone used on the patient, the form used (whether it’s pills, gels, or patches), and when it was first used (around menopause or beyond). There are other factors that determine the safety of menopausal hormones, such as the patient’s body mass index. Simply put, HRT is not a one-size-fits-all kind of treatment. It’s up to the patient if the benefits of HRT will outweigh the potential risks involved.

Most doctors agree that the treatment is beneficial for menopausal symptoms. Sure, there are other alternatives, which are non-hormonal - diet, exercise, prescription drugs, anti-depressants, and even herbal remedies. But none of these can deliver what HRT can in terms of controlling symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats. For a lot of women, HRT actually transformed their lives and contributed to their overall well-being.

It’s also important to point out the benefits of HRT beyond easing the symptoms of menopause. Improving bone health and bone density is a major one. An aging menopausal woman is more prone to osteoporosis, which makes them more vulnerable to fractures. This should be emphasized since these bone conditions become more common as women age and can be very debilitating.

Risks and Side Effects of HRT

A Female doctor visiting a senior woman at her home

Just like any other medical therapy, HRT comes with its own set of health risks. It is said to increase the risk of having breast cancer (when taken long-term), cardiovascular disease, inflammatory markers, blood clots and stroke, and endometrial cancer for those who are taking just estrogen therapy, without progestin. This is why doctors strictly monitor patients who are under HRT and recommend that they undergo breast examination and mammogram at least once a year, especially those who are over 50 years old.

When it comes to side effects, the ones related to HRT are mostly mild and do not require the patient to stop the treatment. These side effects include fluid retention, breast tenderness, and mood swings. When this happens, the doctor can adjust the dosage or change the type of estrogen and/or progestin being taken. A patient who still has her uterus and takes progestin will likely experience monthly vaginal bleeding.

There are certain women who should seek other alternatives as HRT can do them more harm than good. Women who have a history of stroke or heart attack, those with unexplained vaginal bleeding, or those considered high risk or had a history of blood clots and venous thromboembolism are not recommended to take HRT. The same goes for women with past or active breast cancer, fibrocystic breast disease, liver and gallbladder disease, and endometrial cancer.

Read more: Which Side Effects Are Most Common Among Women Taking Hormone Replacement Therapy for Menopause?

Recommendations in Taking HRT

Taking into consideration the studies showing the benefits and risks of taking HRT when it comes to heart disease, the U.S. Food And Drug Administration, and the American Heart Association created helpful guidelines to make sure that taking HRT will be as safe as possible for patients.

First, HRT should not be used primarily for preventing stroke or heart attack. Long-term use should be weighed very carefully in order to avoid risks involving stroke and heart attack, as well as breast cancer risk. The same is applied for using HRT for preventing osteoporosis. Doctors should recommend other options if the patient has coronary artery disease. 

If you’re cleared to take HRT, you can lower your chances of having problems by taking the treatment within 10 years of menopause or before you turn 60. Doctors will always go for taking the lowest dose that is effective for you for the shortest possible time, as long-term treatment is mostly discouraged. If you still have your uterus, you should take progestin or progesterone. You should also take mammograms and pelvic exams regularly.

Taking the hormones in forms other than pills can increase safety. Ask your doctor if you can get it in gels, patches, creams, mists, vaginal rings, and vaginal suppositories.

As more studies are being made, eventually the risk factors of HRT on other possible diseases such as ovarian cancer, colorectal cancer, and uterine cancer will be cleared up.

How Menopausal Women Can Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease

Whether you’re cleared or not to take bioidentical hormones, it’s important to take steps to lower your risk of having heart disease. Quitting smoking, losing weight, and regular exercise are the top things to do for this purpose. Efforts should be made to maintain ideal body weight and do aerobic exercises 3 to 5 times a week, for 30-40 minutes each time. This should be followed by a diet of low saturated fat and trans fat and high in fiber. 

Existing conditions of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes should be treated or at least controlled because these are known risk factors for heart disease.

If you’re looking for a facility where you can get the safest bioidentical hormone replacement therapy in Georgia and nearby areas, why not visit Revitalize You MD in Roswell and Alpharetta? They offer hormone therapies for both men and women for issues such as hormonal imbalance to low testosterone levels. Call now and know your best options for HRT treatments.


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