Hormone Replacement Therapy: What Now?
Feb. 9, 2000 -- Sixteen years ago, Kathryn Shea's body suddenly went haywire. At night, the San Francisco schoolteacher found herself tossing and turning. Once she finally fell asleep, she'd wake often, clammy with sweat. Her fitful nights left her foggy-headed and headachy in the morning. Worst of all were the moments when she'd be standing talking with someone and, in an instant, her face would turn unbearably hot and she'd break out in a sweat.
Though Shea was only 40, it turned out that she was going through menopause, suffering the vexing symptoms that befall many women as their bodies' production of female hormones slows and finally stops. Once she and her doctor realized what was happening, they tried several therapies, with mixed success. "I experimented with everything I could experiment with," Shea says.
Finally, Shea's doctor put her on a mix of the hormones estrogen and progestin (a form of progesterone). At last, Shea slept soundly at night and sailed through her days undisturbed by hot flashes. Though she started the regimen to quell her menopausal symptoms, she's still taking it today because of its bone-strengthening and heart-protecting effects.
Shea is among an estimated 16 million women taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT), according to the North America Menopause Society. The estrogen/progestin mix that brought relief to Shea has grown increasingly popular; taking estrogen alone raises a woman's risk of uterine cancer, but adding progestin greatly reduces this untoward effect.