Hormone Replacement Therapy for Menopause
What Menopause Symptoms Can Estrogen Relieve?
Estrogen is prescribed to relieve:
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal dryness that can result in painful intercourse
- Other problematic symptoms of menopause, such as night sweats and dry, itchy skin
What Are the Risks of Taking HRT?
While HRT helps many women get through menopause, the treatment (like any prescription or even non-prescription medicines) is not risk-free. Known health risks include:
- Increased risk of endometrial cancer (if a woman still has her uterus and is not taking progesterone along with estrogen)
- Increased risk of blood clots and stroke
- Increased risk of breast cancer with estrogen-progestin combination
- According to the Women's Health Initiative, women taking estrogen-progestin combination therapy have an increased risk of heart disease. A later study suggested that the findings may be more relevant to women of more advanced age, and showed a decrease in the risk of heart disease when HRT was started in younger women (those just beginning menopause).
Researchers are continuing to study the benefits and risks of HRT. Talk to your doctor if you have questions or concerns.
What Are Some Commonly Used Postmenopausal Hormones?
The following charts list the names of some, but not all, postmenopausal hormones.
Cenestin, Estinyl, Estrace, Menest, Ogen, Premarin
Estrace, Ogen, Ortho Dienestrol, Premarin
Alora, Climara, Esclim, Estraderm, Vivelle-Dot
Activella, FemHRT, Ortho-Prefest, Premphase, Prempro, low-dose Prempro
Who Shouldn't Take Hormone Replacement Therapy?
Hormone replacement therapy is not usually recommended for women who have:
Cigarette smokers should consider stopping tobacco use before taking HRT.
What Are the Side Effects of Hormone Replacement Therapy?
Like almost all medications, hormone replacement therapy has side effects. The most common side effects are:
- Monthly bleeding
- Irregular spotting
- Breast tenderness
Less common side effects of HRT include:
- Blood clots and stroke (rare, but the most serious risk)
- Fluid retention
- Headaches (including migraine)
- Skin discoloration (brown or black patches)
- Increased breast density (making mammogram evaluation more difficult)
- Skin irritation under estrogen patch
How Can I Reduce the Side Effects of Hormone Replacement Therapy?
Adjusting either the dosage or the form of the medication you are taking can often reduce side effects of HRT. However, you should never make changes in your medication or stop taking it without first consulting your doctor.
How Can I Know if Hormone Replacement Therapy Is Right for Me?
There are many factors to consider when deciding whether to take hormone replacement therapy, including your current health status and medical history. Discuss your risk factors and medical history with your doctor. You should also weigh the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy and consider other treatments.
To get an idea if hormone therapy could be right for you, take WebMD's quiz.