If you’re having bothersome menopause symptoms, you might be wondering if there’s any way to get relief. The answer: Probably. And hormone replacement therapy -- also called HRT, or hormone therapy -- might be able to help.
HRT is female hormones that replace the ones your body no longer makes after menopause. You can get it from medications you take by mouth, patches or gels that go on your skin, or through a cream, ring, or suppository that goes in your vagina. If you still have a uterus, you would take estrogen and progestin. (Progestin helps lower the risk of getting endometrial cancer from estrogen.) If you’ve had a hysterectomy, you take estrogen alone.
Female hormones and migraine headaches are linked. That's one of the reasons why women are three times more likely to get migraines than men.
For many women, menopause brings a welcome end to these headaches. But the hormonal changes leading up to menopause can sometimes make things worse before they get better.
Still, no matter when in life you have migraines, the right treatment can help prevent the headaches or make the pain go away.
HRT used to be the go-to menopause treatment. But after a 2002 study called the Women’s Health Initiative reported that it made you more likely to get breast cancer and heart disease, the number of women using it dropped.
In the past few years, though, follow-up studies have shown that HRT is safe and works for most women who’ve recently started menopause.
“We now know that hormone therapy has more benefits than risks for the majority of women under age 60, or who are within 10 years of menopause,” says JoAnn V. Pinkerton, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist, and the executive director of the North American Menopause Society.
These five questions can help you and your doctor decide if HRT might be a good choice.
1. How Old Are You -- and When Did You Begin Menopause?
Hormone therapy is most helpful, and least risky, if you’re under 60 and use it just before or soon after you begin menopause. (That’s also when symptoms tend to be worst.)
“For women over 60, or who are further than 10 years from the start of menopause, the risk of [heart disease], blood clots, dementia, and stroke is higher,” Pinkerton says. But if you’re in your 50s and use HRT soon after menopause starts, it may actually lower your chances of heart and brain issues. If you have brittle bones or osteoporosis, the treatment can help prevent bone loss, too.