During menopause, you can experience a variety of uncomfortable and painful symptoms, like hot flashes and mood swings. You might wonder what you can do to lessen these symptoms to get you back to feeling like your normal self. Hormone therapy is a popular treatment for women who are either going through or already have gone through menopause, but whether or not hormone therapy is for you differs for every woman.
What is hormone therapy?
According to Web MD, hormone therapy supplements the body with either estrogen alone, or a combination of estrogen and progesterone (hormones produced by our ovaries) during and after menopause. During menopause, the body stops producing the amount of estrogen our bodies need.
There are two types of hormone therapy: estrogen therapy and progesterone/estrogen therapy, also known as combination theory. According to Mayo Clinic, women who still have their uteruses need to take combination hormone therapy because when estrogen is taken without progesterone, it can stimulate growth of the lining of the uterus, increasing the risk of uterine cancer. Progesterone balances the estrogen so that there is no growth of the uterus lining. Women who have had a hysterectomy do not need to take combination therapy.
Although there are benefits to hormone therapy, there are also risks involved. The Mayo Clinic reports that a Danish study of Prempro (a combination estrogen/progesterone pill) found that taking Prempro increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, blood clots and breast cancer. A different trial studying Premarin (estrogen alone) found that taking Premarin had similar risks of blood clots and stroke as the Prempro trial, but no increased risks of breast cancer or heart disease.
Combination therapy also makes x-rays look denser, so therefore it is harder to detect breast cancer in mammograms in those who are taking estrogen combined with progesterone. Combination hormone therapy in the long-run can also increase the risk of breast cancer, so only take hormone therapy for the shortest amount of time possible.
The risks of hormone therapy vary depending on a couple of factors:
- Whether estrogen is given alone or with progesterone
- Your current age and the age you started menopause
- The dose and type of estrogen prescribed
- Risk of heart or blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease, cancer risk and family medical history (via Mayo Clinic)
Is hormone therapy for you?
You should avoid taking hormone therapy if:
- You have history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, blood clots to your legs or lungs, stroke or liver disease
- You are a smoker
- You're unbothered by menopausal symptoms and started menopause before the age of 45. Even if you are unbothered by menopausal symptoms, you should still talk to your doctor about strategies to reduce your risk of osteoporosis and heart disease (via Mayo Clinic)
For most women who reach early menopause (before age 40), protective hormone therapy's benefits outweigh its risks. You should take hormone therapy if you're healthy and:
- Experience moderate to severe hot flashes or other menopausal symptoms
- Have lost bone mass and other treatments don't work or you can't tolerate them
- Stopped having periods before age 40 (premature menopause) or lost normal function of your ovaries before age 40 (via Mayo Clinic)
If you do take hormone therapy, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Only take estrogen in low doses and for the shortest amount of time possible until you to start feeling like your normal self again.
- Find the right product and delivery method (pill form, vaginal, ring form, cream, etc) and seek follow-up care even after you finish hormone therapy.
- Make healthy lifestyle choices, like staying active and eating healthy. Don't forget to get all your proper vitamins and nutrients (via Mayo Clinic).
If you can't take hormone therapy, there are still a few ways you can ease menopausal symptoms:
- Keep cool
- Limit your caffeine and alcohol intake
- Paced, relaxed breathing exercises or other relaxation techniques
- Tai chi
- Acupuncture (via Mayo Clinic)
So what's the skinny?
Bottom line, hormone therapy isn't 100 percent good, but it's not 100 percent bad, either. It's not for everyone, but talk to your doctor if you think you might benefit from hormone therapy. Make sure that you continue your conversation about hormone therapy down the road, because research is constantly being conducted and your doctor's answers might change with time.