Hormone replacement therapy, or simply hormone therapy, is the treatment wherein the body is supplemented with hormones in order to treat certain conditions caused by hormonal fluctuations. This treatment is usually used for menopausal or perimenopausal women. Menopause is characterized by the cessation of the menstrual cycles. This stage is also characterized by a significant drop in the levels of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone.
This hormonal imbalance causes some annoying problems like hot flashes, night sweats, sleep disturbances, mood swings, and vaginal dryness. These are some of the common symptoms of menopause, which may necessitate medical intervention at times. Men with low testosterone levels can also require this treatment. The level of testosterone can get reduced due to aging or andropause. It can also be caused by certain illnesses.
Apart from these, women whose ovaries have been surgically removed can require hormone therapy at times. The hormones that are more commonly used in this treatment are, estrogen, progesterone or progestin, and testosterone. Though hormone replacement therapy can help a woman cope with the symptoms caused by the fluctuating levels of the female hormones, some recent studies have highlighted that this treatment can have certain serious health hazards.
Hormone Replacement Treatment: Is it Good or Bad?
This treatment either uses estrogen, or both estrogen and progesterone to reduce the symptoms associated with menopause. If estrogen is used alone, it can increase the risk of endometrial cancer, and this is the reason why both estrogen and progesterone are usually used together.
Estrogen stimulates the growth of the endometrial cells, in order to prepare it for implanting the fertilized egg. When fertilization does not take place, the endometrial cells are shed during menstruation. Menstruation stops when a woman reaches the menopausal stage. So, if estrogen is used alone, it can cause an overgrowth of the endometrial cells and increase the risk of cancer. However, women whose uterus have been removed surgically can go for the hormone therapy that uses only estrogen.
But in general, this therapy uses both estrogen and progesterone to treat the annoying symptoms of menopause, such as night sweats, sleep disturbances, anxiety, frequent hot flashes, and vaginal dryness. A deficiency of the female hormones can also weaken the bones and cause osteoporosis. So, hormone therapy can reduce the risk of osteoporosis as well.
Some studies have reported that this therapy can also reduce the risk of colorectal cancer and heart disease. In men, a reduced level of testosterone can manifest in sleeplessness, loss of libido, erectile dysfunction, weight gain, and depression. Hormone therapy can help alleviate these conditions by supplementing the body with testosterone.
Possible Side Effects
Some studies have indicated that this therapy can increase the risk of blood clots, breast cancer, and endometrial or uterine cancer. The risk of developing blood clots is particularly high for women who smoke. However, this risk can be quite low for those who use estrogen skin patches. Women receiving this treatment may also have an increased risk of developing gallbladder diseases and strokes.
On the other hand, older women receiving estrogen have a higher risk of developing heart disease. Apart from these, this therapy can produce a few additional side effects in some women. Such side effects can include, bloating, nausea, water retention, headaches, irritability, and mood swings. In men, it may raise the risk of prostate cancer, benign prostatic hyperplasia, and heart attacks.
Considering all these pros and cons, physicians usually do not recommend this treatment for individuals with a family history of strokes, heart disease, breast cancer, and prostate cancer. If the symptoms of menopause and andropause are not so severe, then they can be managed by adopting a healthy lifestyle. Regular physical activity and a balanced diet can provide significant relief in these conditions.
Therefore, one should evaluate the other treatment options before going for the hormone replacement treatment. But if this therapy becomes inevitable, then talk to your physician to find out which form of the therapy would be suitable for you. Usually, the hormones used in this therapy are available in the form of pills, gels, injections, vaginal cream, and skin patches.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.