Estrogen plays an important role in many aspects of a woman's health. Hormone replacement therapy replaces lost hormones and helps to alleviate some of the symptoms that accompany reduced hormone levels.
Symptoms associated with peri-menopause and menopause which respond to Hormone Replacement Therapy include:
Hot flashes and night sweats: The most common symptoms of low estrogen which results from blood rushing to the surface of the skin.
Mood swings: Disrupted sleep caused by night sweats as well as chemical changes within the brain can cause rapid mood swings.
Thinning tissue: Decreases in estrogen may affect a woman's skin making it thinner and more wrinkled. The urinary tract may also thin out causing increased incidence of bladder infections or urinary incontinence. Thinning of the vagina may also result in painful intercourse.
Other symptoms include headaches, growth of facial and body hair, and a reduction of breast size.
Major health risks posed by low estrogen levels include:
Osteoporosis: Estrogen plays an important role in maintaining strong bones. Proper estrogen levels prevent calcium loss that can lead to weak bones and an increased risk of fractures.
Heart Disease: Estrogen is also beneficial to a woman's heart. Estrogen decreases the risk of heart disease by increasing good cholesterol (HDL) and lowering bad cholesterol (LDL).
Risks of Hormone Replacement Therapy, HRT
Occasionally HRT increases the risk of gallbladder disease and high blood pressure
Estrogen may stimulate the growth of pre-existing breast cancer and increase the risk of uterine cancer (if it isn't taken with progestin)
HRT can be administered through a variety of methods. The most common way is through pills prescribed by a physician. Another method is skin patches which release estrogen directly into the blood stream. Vaginal or urinary symptoms are commonly treated with a cream that is inserted into the vagina one or more times a week.
Common Hormone Replacement Therapy, HRT treatments include:
Cyclic Estrogen and Progestin
This regimen is similar to a normal menstrual cycle where estrogen is taken all month and progestin is taken for half the month. Side effects of this can include bleeding; however, this program reduces the risk of uterine cancer.
Combined Continuous with a Break
This regimen allows for five to nine days without estrogen and progestin each month. The benefits of this regimen include reducing the risk of uterine cancer and less irregular bleeding.
This regimen uses a lower dose of progestin. Both estrogen and progestin are taken every day of the month. This regimen reduces the symptoms of a menstrual cycle and protects against uterine cancer.
This regimen is used primarily for women without a uterus.
Regular check-ups should be a part of every woman's health routine. Women who are on HRT should see a physician every six months to a year and have a mammogram annually. HRT isn't for everyone.
Women who have the following conditions are typically not good candidates for HRT: