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What you need to know about hormone replacement therapy

Hormone replacement therapy is a subject not without controversy. Tinkering with hormones is a tricky thing. Hormones affect so much — your quality of sleep, libido (or lack thereof), stress response, emotional well-being, and much more. So, we want to be careful and deliberate when treating hormonal imbalances as we age. What’s more, every woman responds differently to various treatments. In other words, there’s no one-size-fits-all cure for hormonal imbalances.

What is hormone replacement therapy?

Hormone replacement therapy is just as it sounds. You take a medication that contains the hormones your body is no longer producing (or producing lower levels of). It’s a popular treatment among women in their perimenopausal years. It’s also approved by the government as a viable option for women undergoing the discomforts of menopause.

Types and methods of hormone replacement therapy

There exist two different types of HRT. The first consists of estrogen only. Referred to as ERT (estrogen replacement therapy), this treatment is typically prescribed to women who’ve had a hysterectomy. The second type is known as EPT (estrogen progesterone therapy). It provides the body with both estrogen and progesterone, and is generally available for women with a uterus still intact.

Both types of HRT come in systemic form — you take a pill, wear a patch, get an injection, or use a gel. The hormones are absorbed through the skin and travel to the bloodstream in order to release hormones throughout the body. Alternatively, you can localize hormone replacement therapy by through the use of a vaginal cream, tablet, or ring. This method may be used to treat symptoms of vaginal atrophy such as dry or thinned vaginal tissue.

Benefits of hormone replacement therapy

Some women swear by hormone replacement therapy, and science backs them up. There have been hundreds of clinical studies conducted that prove HRT benefits women who suffer from symptoms such as night sweats and hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and bone loss. HRT can also help protect bones and prevent osteoporosis.

Risks of hormone replacement therapy

Clinical trials have indicated that a combination estrogen-progestin pill could increase the risk of certain health conditions, such as:

  • Blood clots
  • Stroke
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Breast cancer
  • Mood swings
  • Indigestion

In the early 2000s, some studies suggested a link between HRT and an increased risk of breast cancer and heart disease. However, the women who participated in these studies were significantly older than the average age of menopause. Other studies have found no increased risk when HRT is started within 10 years of the onset of menopause, typically between the ages of 45 and 55. A study conducted in Denmark in 2012 found that healthy women who began hormone replacement therapy immediately after starting menopause benefited from a decreased risk of heart disease, as well as a lower rate of death due to heart disease.

Hormone replacement therapy contraindications

HRT isn’t for everyone. If you’re 45 years of age or older, and haven’t yet experienced symptoms of perimenopause or menopause, there’s no need for treatment. If you don’t suffer the ill-effects of hormonal imbalances, you don’t even need to consider treatment. If you’ve had breast cancer, endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer, liver disease, blood clots in your lungs, or blood clots in your legs, hormone replacement therapy may not be recommended.

Natural treatment for menopause symptoms

If you’re going through an emotionally stressful time in your life, not sleeping well, eating poorly, or leading a sedentary lifestyle, you’re going to experience greater hormonal upset. Smoking doesn’t help either, nor does indulging in too much alcohol. Cleaning up your diet and upgrading your lifestyle can help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with hormonal imbalances.

  • Eat a clean, whole-foods diet. You’ll be doing your hormones a world of good by eating an organic, nutrient-dense diet. Get rid of processed foods, refined sugars, packaged foods, hydrogenated oils, and refined grains.
  • Get proper sleep. Words cannot express just how essential a good night’s sleep is when it comes to healthy hormones. Do everything you can to keep a consistent sleep schedule and ensure a good night of rest every night.
  • Exercise. A regular exercise regimen is key to healthy hormones. Take yoga or pilates classes in a studio with women who are in the same stage of life as you. Walk or bike places when possible instead of driving. Work with weights a few times a week, and get your heart rate up as well. Cardio exercise releases feel-good hormones and also helps you sleep.
  • Practice stress-relief. Stress and anxiety are intricately linked to hormonal imbalances. Treat yourself to regular massages, yoga classes, meditation sessions, aromatherapy treatments, walks in nature, journaling, and whatever else soothes your soul and calms your mind.
  • Try acupuncture. Some women find relief from anxiety and chronic pain through acupuncture.

A delicate balance

As you can see, addressing the hormonal changes that come with menopause can sometimes mean walking a tightrope between finding relief and staying healthy over the long haul. Hormone replacement therapy is a viable option for many women. Contact OB/GYN Associates of Alabama to schedule an appointment and learn more about your treatment options for menopause.

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