Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), used to be one of the most highly recommended menopause treatments until the 2002 Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study discovered dangerous side effects related to HRT. The following is a brief overview of the risks and benefits of HRT.
History of HRT
In 1941, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of HRT to help women treat their menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness. In the following decades, before 2002, HRT had the reputation of helping women transition more comfortably from one phase of their lives to the next. Estrogen (either alone or mixed with progestin) was given to aging women and was known to help combat many signs of aging including menopause, osteoporosis, heart disease, and Alzheimer's disease. Although certain companies put an extraordinary amount of time and money into the advertisement of HRT, it did have its ups and downs throughout the 60 years it was FDA-approved; but none of these risks were ever seriously discussed until the halted Women's Health Initiative study in 2002.
Benefits of HRT
When HRT is administered for a short period of time, in the lowest dosage possible, it is able to quickly combat symptoms of menopause. Some of the benefits include relief from hot flashes, mood swings, vaginal dryness, irritability, insomnia, palpitations, and joint aches. In some cases, women have reported relief from hot flashes and night sweats only three weeks after beginning treatment. After one to three months of administration, HRT can reverse changes around the vagina and vulva. The knock on effect of easing these symptoms is that women often experience less stress and anxiety in their everyday lives. HRT can also help women who may be prone to osteoporosis, before it becomes more serious. HRT is just one of many ways to treat menopause.
Risks Associated with HRT
The largest clinical trial to date that studied the risks involved with an estrogen-progesterone HRT regimen found an alarming number of serious health risks associated with HRT treatment. These risks include higher rates of heart disease, breast cancer, strokes, blood clots, and abnormal mammograms. The probability of experiencing such risks increases the longer a woman stays on HRT. Your doctor will be able to tell you if you are at the risk of experiencing these side effects, and will be able to guide you through the process of deciding which treatment is best for you as an individual.
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- Love, Susan M.D. Menopause and Hormone Book. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003.
- Martin, Raquel. The Estrogen Alternative. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2000.