Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a combination of medicines that some women may decide to take to help deal with the symptoms of the menopause (which can be pretty unpleasant).
You don’t have to take it and it totally depends on how you feel and whether you get symptoms at all! In today’s blog post, our doctors at London Doctors Clinic run you through everything you need to know on the topic and about the treatment – read on for more!
What Are The Symptoms of The Menopause?
When thinking about symptoms of the menopause, the first thing that springs to mind is usually hot flushes! However, there are lots of other symptoms that you might not realise are also part of the menopause.
This can include:
- Night sweats
- Mood swings
- Reduced sex drive (libido)
- Vaginal dryness
- Changes to memory/sleep
The menopause can cause a variety of symptoms, including mood swings and changes to memory
While many of these symptoms do improve by themselves after a few years, they can be quite unpleasant in the mean time. That’s where HRT comes in: to help relieve some of these symptoms.
HRT & Bones
The other important reason some women take HRT is to help protect their bones. Weakening of the bones (osteoporosis) is more common after the menopause, and taking HRT can help reduce this.
What Is Hormone Replacement Therapy?
HRT is a medication containing the two female sex hormones: oestrogen and progesterone. These two hormones are produced by the ovaries, which cease to function during the menopause, hence much lower levels of these two hormones.
Low levels of these hormones result in the above mentioned symptoms of the menopause. By taking HRT, you replenish these diminished hormone levels, therefore reducing symptoms.
When Can I Start Taking HRT?
HRT can be taken as soon as you start getting symptoms of the menopause – there is often no need for any tests before hand. You’ll probably start on a lower dose which will be gradually increased. Some women experience side effects of HRT, which should pass as they continue to take the medication.
Doctors usually prescribe HRT for 3 months, initially, to see if it has a positive effect on your symptoms. After this 3 month trial period, you should arrange another consultation with your GP or private GP to discuss your progress on this therapy. Depending on how you get on, your GP may recommend you either continue with the medication, or may suggest an alternative plan.
How Long Can I Take HRT For?
You can take HRT for as long as you want but most women tend to stop it once their symptoms subside, either suddenly or gradually. It is recommended to slowly reduce your dose of HRT, to best to avoid the symptoms returning.
Women who have undergone a hysterectomy (had their womb removed) only need to take HRT that contains oestrogen. Otherwise, all other women should take HRT containing both progesterone and oestrogen, as taking oestrogen alone increases your risk of developing womb (endometrial) cancer.
How Do I Take HRT?
The good thing about HRT is that it can be taken in many different ways, so you can find a method of administration that suits you. HRT can be taken as:
- A tablet
- A trans-dermal patch
- A pessary
- A vaginal ring
- A gel
- A vaginal cream
These different methods of taking it may fit in better with your lifestyle, and also have slightly different side effects, so talk to your doctor about which option might work best for you.
Can All Women Take HRT?
HRT may be advised against if you have one of the following:
- A history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer or womb cancer
- A history of blood clots
- Untreated high blood pressure (once your high blood pressure is treated, you can start HRT)
- Liver disease
- Are pregnant
If this is the case, please be sure to tell your GP.
Side Effects of HRT
HRT is associated with a few side effects but these usually go away after a few months. Some potential side-effects of HRT may include:
- Breast tenderness
- Tummy pain
- Vaginal bleeding
HRT has some side effects, including headaches
Risks of HRT
As with all other medications, including similar hormonal contraceptives, there are small risks associated with taking HRT that you should be aware of and understand before commencing therapy.
Some types of HRT can result in a small increase in risk of breast cancer and blood clots. However, for most women the symptoms relief benefits of taking HRT outweigh the risks.
If you cannot take HRT, then your GP will be able to discuss alternatives, such as SSRIs, an antidepressant medication.
Other Ways of Managing Menopause
So, if you’re struggling with symptoms of the menopause, and would like to discuss options for better management with a doctor, we recommend you book a GP consultation with one of our experienced GP’s at any of our eight central London clinics. All of our GP surgeries are located close to major transport hubs, so we should never be too far away when you need to find a “GP near me“. Don’t suffer through the menopause in silence – work out the best option for you.