Hot Flashes (cont.)

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Hormone Therapy

Traditionally, hot flashes have been treated with either oral or transdermal (patch) forms of estrogen. Hormone therapy (HT), also referred to as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or postmenopausal hormone therapy (PHT), consists of estrogens alone or a combination of estrogens and progesterone (progestin). All available prescription estrogen medications, whether oral or transdermal; are effective in reducing the frequency of hot flashes and their severity. Research indicates that these medications decrease the frequency of hot flashes.

However, long-term studies (the NIH-sponsored Women's Health Initiative, or WHI) of women receiving combined hormone therapy with both estrogen and progesterone were halted when it was discovered that these women had an increased risk for heart attack, stroke, and breast cancer when compared with women who did not receive hormone therapy. Later studies of women taking estrogen therapy alone showed that estrogen was associated with an increased risk for stroke, but not for heart attack or breast cancer. Estrogen therapy alone, however, is associated with an increased risk of developing endometrial cancer (cancer of the lining of the uterus) in postmenopausal women who have not had their uterus surgically removed.

More recently, it has been noted that the negative effects associated with hormone therapy were described in older women who were years beyond menopause, and some researchers have suggested that these negative outcomes might be lessened or prevented if hormone therapy was given to younger women (prior to or around the age of menopause) instead of women years beyond menopause.

The decision in regard to starting or continuing hormone therapy, therefore, is an individual one in which the patient and doctor must take into account the inherent risks and benefits of the treatment along with each woman's own medical history. It is currently recommended that if hormone therapy is used, it should be used at the smallest effective dose for the shortest possible time.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/7/2014

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