Table of Contents
- Menopause facts
- What is menopause?
- At what age does a woman typically reach menopause?
- What conditions can affect the timing of menopause?
- What are the symptoms of menopause?
- What are the symptoms of menopause? (continued)
- What are the complications and effects of menopause on chronic medical conditions?
- Are hormone levels or other blood tests helpful in detecting menopause?
- What are the treatment options for menopause?
- Hormone therapy for menopause
- Hormone therapy for menopause (continued)
- Other pharmaceutical therapies for menopause
- Alternative medical therapies for menopause
- Alternative medical therapies for menopause (continued)
- Non-pharmaceutical therapies for menopause symptoms
- Lifestyle factors in controlling the symptoms and complications of menopause
Quick GuideWhat to Expect During Menopause as You Age
Hormone therapy for menopause
Estrogen and progesterone therapy
Hormone therapy (HT), also referred to as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or postmenopausal hormone therapy (PHT), consists of estrogens or a combination of estrogens and progesterone (progestin). Hormone therapy has been used to control the symptoms of menopause related to declining estrogen levels such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness, and HT is still the most effective way to treat these symptoms. But 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 HT. 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.
Hormone therapy is available in oral (pill), transdermal form (for example, patch and spray such as Vivelle, Climara, Estraderm, Esclim, Alora). Transdermal hormone products are already in their active form without the need for "first pass" metabolism in the liver to be converted to an active form. Since transdermal hormone products do not have effects on the liver, this route of administration has become the preferred form for most women. A number of preparations are available for oral and transdermal forms of HT, varying in the both type and amount of hormones in the products.
There has been increasing interest in recent years in the use of so-called "bioidentical" hormone therapy for perimenopausal women. Bioidentical hormone preparations are medications that contain hormones that have the same chemical formula as those made naturally in the body. The hormones are created in a laboratory by altering compounds derived from naturally-occurring plant products. Some of these so-called bioidentical hormone preparations are U.S. FDA-approved and manufactured by drug companies, while others are made at special pharmacies called compounding pharmacies that make the preparations on a case-by-case basis for each patient. These individual preparations are not regulated by the FDA, because compounded products are not standardized.
Like transdermal HT products, bioidentical hormone therapy products are administered transdermally. They are typically applied as cream or gels. Their advocates believe that their use may avoid potentially dangerous side effects of synthetic hormones used in conventional hormone therapy. However, studies to establish the long-term safety and effectiveness of these products have not been carried out.
The decision about hormone therapy is a very individual decision 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. It is currently recommended that hormone therapy be used if the balance of risks and benefits is favorable for the individual woman. Continue Reading
Clarkson, T. "The Role of Soy Isoflavones in Menopausal Health." Medscape. Oct 2010
Rossouw JE; Anderson GL; Prentice RL et al. Risks and benefits of estrogen plus progestin in healthy postmenopausal women: principal results From the Women's Health Initiative randomized controlled trial. JAMA 2002 Jul 17;288(3):321-33.
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