Menopause Hormone Therapy

Menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) is used by many women to help control the symptoms of menopause. MHT, which in the past was called hormone replacement therapy (HRT), involves doses of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. (Women who don’t have a uterus anymore will only take estrogen.)

MHT can be very effective at helping with moderate to severe symptoms during the menopausal transition and preventing debilitating bone loss. However, MHT also has some risks, especially if used over a long period of time.

MHT can help with menopause by:

  • Reducing hot flash symptoms, night sweats, and related problems such as poor sleep patterns and irritability
  • Treating vaginal symptoms, such as discomfort and dryness, and related effects, such as painful sensations during sex
  • Slowing bone loss
  • Possibly decreasing mood swings and mild depressive symptoms (note, MHT is not an antidepressant medication — talk to your doctor if you are having signs of depression.)

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For some women, MHT may increase their chances of:

  • Heart attack
  • Breast cancer
  • Stroke
  • Blood clots
  • Gall bladder disease

Research into the benefits and risks of MHT therapy continues. For example, a recent scientific study suggests that the low-dose patch form of MHT may not carry the the possible risk of stroke that other forms can potentially have. Talk with your physician about the positives and negatives of MHT therapy based on your personal medical history and age. Keep in mind, too, that you may have symptoms when you stop the use of MHT. You also can talk with your physician about treatments other than MHT that can help deal with certain specific symptoms or help prevent bone loss.

Keep in mind when considering MHT that:

Once a woman has reached menopause, MHT is recommended only as a short-term treatment plan. Doctors recommend MHT to prevent certain chronic diseases like osteoporosis only in very rare cases. Women who have already gone through menopause should not take MHT to prevent heart disease. MHT should not be used to prevent memory loss, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease.

MHT can cause side effects. Call your doctor if you develop any of these problems:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Breast tenderness or swelling
  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Mood changes
  • Headaches