Estrogen is a hormone that develops and maintains womanly characteristics in the body. This is the hormone responsible for breast development, the reproductive cycle, and most differences between male and female humans. For example, estrogen causes women’s vocal cords to be shaped differently from men’s, producing a more womanly voice. It keeps women from going bald as easily as men do. It gives women more fat around the hips and thighs and keeps bones strong.
Menopause = less estrogen production
Menopause, a normal part of growing older, is the end of menstrual periods and the ability to have babies. A woman is said to have completed menopause when she has not had a period for a full year. At this point, her body makes much less estrogen than it did when she was in her childbearing years.
For some women, this is the only sign of menopause: no more menstruation.
For others, the fluctuations of hormone production leading up to menopause may cause discomfort:
- hot flashes
- night sweats
- mood swings
- less interest in sex
- weight gain around the middle
- trouble sleeping
- thinning hair
- vaginal dryness
- thinning bones — osteoporosis
Some women experience these things during menopause and some experience them after menopause, sometimes for years. Some never experience them at all.
You may be able to handle menopausal symptoms with exercise and healthy eating. But the hormonal changes might affect your health and wellbeing enough that your doctor will recommend hormone replacement therapy.
Hormone therapy, or HT, is — as you would expect — a matter of replacing the estrogen (and sometimes another hormone, progestin) with synthetic hormones.
HT comes in many forms, from a patch to a nasal spray, a pill to a cream. You must have a prescription from your doctor to use any form of hormone therapy. You should discuss the possibility with your doctor, who will be able to suggest the best form of HT for your specific situation.
Is it safe?
There have been studies suggesting that HT could increase the risk or breast cancer, or of heart disease. There are questions about these studies; they were conducted with older women who had used HT for a long time.
Now, hormone replacement therapy is usually prescribed so that users will have the smallest effective dose for just as long as they need it. Long-term HT may be prescribed for women who have or are at risk for osteoporosis.
The doctors and nurse practitioner at Renaissance Women’s Healthcare are specialists in women’s health, including menopause. They will be able to answer any questions you may have about hormone therapy.