Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is used to reduce the symptoms of menopause, which is a natural part of ageing for women. Menopause happens when your ovaries stop releasing eggs as a result of falling levels of oestrogen. This reduction in oestrogen causes the symptoms usually associated with menopause.
Symptoms of menopause include:
There are two types of HRT:
Your GP or gynaecologist will discuss your options with you.
The main benefits of taking HRT are relief from menopause symptoms such as:
HRT can also maintain vaginal muscle tone, which may help to reduce urinary incontinence. Low oestrogen levels can also weaken your bones, which may cause them to break more easily (a condition called osteoporosis). In the long-term, HRT can help reduce the risk of this.
All medicines have some risks, however, HRT is generally safe for most women going through menopause.
Common side effects of HRT can include:
There isn’t enough evidence to suggest that HRT causes weight gain. Many women gain weight when they reach menopause. But this may be your body's way of producing more oestrogen, as your body fat can produce some oestrogen after menopause.
Most side effects of HRT get better within a couple of months. If they don't improve, your GP may suggest you try a different oestrogen or progesterone, depending on what’s causing your side effects.
In some women HRT can increase the risks of developing:
The risks of developing these types of problems are small, but your GP or gynaecologist will talk to you about them before starting any treatment. Because of these risks you generally won’t be prescribed HRT if you’ve had one of these problems in the past. It isn’t clear yet whether HRT contributes to developing heart disease, ovarian cancer, or dementia.
If you're taking HRT, it's important to have regular mammograms and be breast aware. This means knowing how your breasts look and feel, and knowing what changes to look out for. If you're worried about any changes to your breasts, see your GP.
The decision to take or stay on HRT is one that should be decided with your GP or gynaecologist. You need to weigh up the risks and benefits and consider factors such as:
How long you should take HRT is also an individual decision for you to make with your doctor’s advice and support.
Australian Menopause Society
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National Health and Medical Research Council. Hormone Replacement Therapy: Exploring the Options for Women. [online] Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia. Mar 2005 [Accessed 12 Jul 2011] Available from: http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/
National Health and Medical Research Council. Making decisions: Should I use hormone replacement therapy? [online] Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia. Mar 2005 [Accessed 12 Jul 2011] Available from: http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG). Hormone therapy advice. [online] East Melbourne, VIC: RANZCOG. 2004 [Last updated Jul 2009, accessed 14 Jul 2011] Available from: http://www.ranzcog.edu.au
Santen RJ Allred DC Ardoin SP et al. Postmenopausal Hormone Therapy: An Endocrine Society Scientific Statement. J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 2010; 95(7 Suppl 1): s1-s66.
Sturdee DW Pines A International Menopause Society Writing Group et al. Updated IMS recommendations on postmenopausal hormone therapy and preventive strategies for midlife health. Climacteric. 2011; 14: 302–332.
Last published: 30 July 2011
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