Hormone Replacement Therapy: Everything You Need to Know
What is Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)?
As you age, your body produces lower levels of hormones. This fluctuation in hormone levels results in the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause:
- Hot flashes
- Weight gain
- Mood swings
- Vaginal dryness and itching
- Night sweats
- Pain during sexual intercourse
A doctor may prescribe hormones to replace the ones that your body no longer produces. This process is called hormone replacement therapy, or HRT.
Most women take a combination of estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen helps with the bothersome symptoms of menopause, and progesterone protects against uterine cancer and bone loss.
Types of HRT
HRT can be systemic or local. In systemic HRT, hormones travel through the bloodstream and can alleviate most of the symptoms of menopause. Systemic therapy delivers hormones to the body through pills, patches, sprays, pellets, gels, or injections.
Local HRT does not travel throughout the body and therefore creates fewer potential risks. For women who have only vaginal symptoms, local HRT administered by creams, rings, or vaginal tablets may provide relief.
Bioidentical hormones are derived from plant estrogens rather than synthetic materials. The FDA has approved several bioidentical preparations of progesterone and estradiol, a weak form of estrogen. However, to provide individualized therapy, hormones are often compounded (mixed together) by a specialized pharmacy. The FDA does not regulate compounded drugs, so it’s essential to have a reputable team to provide bioidentical HRT for you.
Potential Risks of HRT
There are several health issues associated with HRT. Most patients will not experience serious concerns, especially if the type of HRT they undergo is carefully chosen for them by an experienced, trustworthy doctor. Some potential risks include an increased chance of developing:
- Heart disease
- Breast cancer
- Blood clots
- Gall bladder disease
Who Should Not Use HRT?
Because of the potential risks, you should not undergo HRT if you have certain medical conditions, including a history of blood clots, heart disease, stroke, or hormone-fueled breast cancer. During your consultation, your doctor will review your health history to see if you are a good candidate for HRT.
Weighing the Risks and Benefits
Dominion Women’s Health clinicians will help you determine if HRT is a good option for you. They will fully examine you and measure your current hormone levels. Of course, your current symptoms and medical history will factor into the decision.
The amount of risk depends on the type of therapy, and the amount of time it is received. Most of the problems linked with HRT are caused by using it for a long time.
Use the lowest dosage of hormones that works for you to minimize risk and use it for the least amount of time needed.
Potential Side Effects of HRT
There are a few possible side effects of starting HRT, but these should be temporary and will diminish as your body adjusts to the increased hormones. Side effects may include:
- Weight gain
- Mood swings
- Breast soreness
- Blurry vision
- Vaginal bleeding
Schedule a Consultation
To learn more about HRT and your best options, schedule an appointment at Dominion Women’s Health by calling our office at (804) 730-0800or contacting us online.