Hot flashes in menopause? Ask your doctor about hormone therapy

September 17, 2018 Providence Health Team

Hormone therapy (HT) can provide safe and effective relief from menopause symptoms for many women. But is it right for you? We answer some frequently asked questions.

As women age, their ovaries stop releasing eggs and they stop experiencing their monthly period. The ceasing of menstruation is also known as menopause. If you’re experiencing menopause currently, then you may be familiar with the uncomfortable symptoms that follow. Hot flashes, night sweats, and a loss of libido are just a few of the many changes your body goes through. To mitigate the discomfort that these symptoms cause, some women may want to ask their physician about hormone therapy, which treatments are FDA approved, and whether they are good candidates for it.

What is hormone therapy?

Hormone therapy is delivered via a pill, patch, gel or ring and is used to treat symptoms of menopause. There are two types of hormone therapy available: Estrogen-only therapy and estrogen-plus-progestogen therapy. The former is prescribed if the patient has had their uterus removed due to a hysterectomy, the latter to protect women with a uterus against endometrial cancer that may develop from taking estrogen alone. Progestogen plus estrogen guards the body against cancer by causing the endometrium to shed each month.

Hormone treatment can be delivered multiple ways. Speak with your doctor about whether you need systemic treatment or local treatment. Systemic treatment will affect the entire body, whereas local treatment only impacts a specific area of the body where the symptoms are occurring.

Why do women consider replacing their hormones?

Women in their 40s and 50s experience declining levels of estrogen. Without estrogen, your body has a difficult time processing calcium and maintaining healthy levels of cholesterol. Loss of estrogen can also increase the risk of osteoporosis.

How does it benefit those with menopausal symptoms?

Hormone therapy can provide relief from night sweats and hot flashes, and also contribute to overall vaginal health. Taking estrogen stimulates the growth of the uterus lining, and can also lessen symptoms like itching and dryness during intercourse. Estrogen may protect against osteoporosis; however, we recommend speaking to your doctor if this is a concern.

What are some of the risks involved?

When considering hormone therapy, you must educate yourself on the risks and benefits and talk about them with your doctor. Risks associated with hormone therapy include blood clots, stroke, heart disease, incontinence and cancer, although the risks vary due to several factors including genetic disposition, age, type of hormone therapy and dosage.

How can you reduce these risks if you decide to receive hormone therapy?

If you are concerned about potential risks involved with hormone therapy, ask about taking a lower dose for a short time that is consistent with your goals. Follow up with your doctor regularly, limit your intake of unhealthy substances like alcohol, and don’t smoke. Be sure to support your treatment with a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and a healthy diet.

What are the side effects of hormone therapy?

Depending on your medication, you may experience headaches, mood changes, bloating, and vaginal bleeding.

Who shouldn’t take hormone therapy?

Women who have previously had a heart attack, stroke, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, blood clots in the lungs or liver disease should carefully weigh the risks of hormone therapy and consider it only after thorough clinical consultation.

What factors play into deciding if hormone therapy is right for you?

Your age and past medical history are crucial in determining if hormone therapy will be safe for you.

Providence Wellness Watch - Managing Menopause - Dr. Cherrytree:

If you’ve stopped having periods before the age of 40, you may want to consider hormone therapy to protect your body against long-term effects of estrogen deficiency. Hormone therapy also may be a solution for women experiencing symptoms due to natural menopause and those who have lost bone mass.

How long is treatment?

Treatment varies depending on the severity of your symptoms, however in some cases hormone therapy is limited to up to five years to avoid possible increased risks of heart disease and breast cancer.

Individual counseling is essential for women who are considering hormone therapy. Find a Providence provider near you.

AK: Gynecology Doctors at Providence Alaska

CA: Providence Women’s Health Services

MT: Providence Women’s Health Services

OR: Providence Women’s Clinic

WA: Providence Women’s Health Services; Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, Spokane

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Subscribe to our blog for informative women’s health articles like this one. Learn about the findings of the Women’s Health Initiative on menopausal hormone therapy and health outcomes.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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