Hormone therapy is that fabled elixir of eternal youth that strives keeps menopausal symptoms at bay. Of course, if you have yet to experience that crazy dance called the menopause hormone bounce you might well wonder what all the fuss is about. But is hormone therapy right for everyone?
Menopause is not a disease
There is still a stigma surrounding menopause. The reason? Over the years, menopause has been transformed from a natural process to a disease.
It is sold with language such as ‘decline’ and ‘dried up’. The inference being that once our oestrogen levels have completely dried up, so have we and that we should just shrivel up with it.
The post-menopausal woman has been relegated to an image of being less than they were before. With further implications that our value and contributions as a person are purely defined as something that nature takes away, because, of course, it’s purely the oestrogen that makes us the truly unique individuals we are. (*inserts large eye roll*)
The problem with menopause and your hormones
The main problem with menopause is the drastic reduction in the production of female hormones.
While some fluctuations in oestrogen and progesterone hormone levels do occur, which can make your mood bounce up and down, the hormone levels are only really going down.
During perimenopause (the beginning of your journey through menopause), your hormonal changes may be slight and then level off. It is then likely to be followed by another drop and leveling off. This continues until there’s no more dropping to go. It’s this dropping and leveling that makes us feel as if our hormones are bouncing.
And, when you look at it like that, it’s more understandable why both perimenopausal and menopausal women feel as if they are at the mercy of their hormones
What is hormone therapy?
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) seeks to smooth out the fluctuating hormone levels and keep many of the unpleasant menopause symptoms (hot flashes, irregular and maybe heavy periods, mood swings) from wreaking havoc in your life.
HRT involves taking oestrogen and progesterone hormones externally. This can either be in the form of oral medication or the application of a topical ointment.
However, it’s not for everyone. In general, only women going through extreme menopause should opt for HRT, despite what the celebs selling its virtue on Instagram tell you.
And you should only ever take HRT under the guidance, and regular review, from your doctor. This is to protect you and make sure you are getting the right amounts of the right hormone.
HRT is not recommended for long-term use and despite it being controversial, it is still one of the most reliable and effective treatments for menopause hormone problems.
Everyone will experience menopause differently, and those with milder symptoms may be helped by herbal remedies. Again though, it is important to talk through your options with your doctor. The last thing you want to do is add to your menopause woes!
Types of hormone therapy
There are two types of hormone therapy:
Oestrogen replacement is the most useful, as it helps banish all menopause symptoms, as well as build bone mass which helps prevent osteoporosis.
A low, daily dose is generally prescribed.
This therapy is also the only therapy offered to women who have had a hysterectomy.
Oestrogen + Progesterone
If you still have your uterus, this combination therapy will most likely be your route. This is because if you take oestrogen on its own, you increase the risk of developing endometrium cancer. The progesterone helps keep the endometrium thin and lowers that risk.
Again, the dose prescribed will be the lowest it can be.
Benefits and risks of hormone therapy
For many, the benefits of hormone therapy outweigh the risks.
We are all unique, so what might be beneficial for one, may not be for another. So, when thinking about hormone therapy we must weigh up in our own minds whether it is right for us. Not be swayed by pressure from well-meaning family or friends, or the latest post on social media!
Benefits of hormone therapy
The benefits of hormone therapy vary with age.
The main benefits are the reduction and relief of many menopausal symptoms, e.g., hot flushes, night sweats, sleep disturbances, mood swings, vaginal dryness and low libido.
Side benefits to these include a lowered risk of developing osteoporosis and it can lessen joint pain.
As with everything in life, there are risks, however small. The decision to take hormone therapy is no different.
In general, the risks are lower in younger menopausal women. And for those taking oestrogen-only, the risks seem to be even less.
Possible known risks include an increased chance of developing:
- Endometrial cancer (if you don’t take progesterone and you haven’t had a hysterectomy)
- Breast cancer (if you use hormone therapy long-term)
- Blood clots, strokes and heart disease
Hormone therapy side effects
As with any form of medication, there can be some side effects to taking hormone therapy. Amongst the most common are:
- Regular bleeding
- Sore boobs
- Mood swings
Other side effects, although less rare include:
- Skin irritation, if you wear a hormone patch
- Fluid retention
Hormone therapy is not a magic ‘cure-all’. However, if you are thinking about hormone therapy, it is important to talk it over with your doctor. This is so you are aware of the pros and cons of the treatment and can make an informed decision.
In general, if you have both a healthy diet and lifestyle you are more likely to experience a normal menopause, even without hormone therapy.
Above all, remember, femininity is not characterised by what hormones you have, or don’t have, but by your own choices and expressions. Neither is it solely equated with youth.
So whatever age you are, get out there and live it, hormone therapy or not.