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Hormone Replacement Therapy

As women mature, their bodies produce less estrogen.  This often causes significant symptoms (also known as “menopause”) that can affect your quality of life.  There are ways to replace the hormones that you are lacking, and this is called “hormone replacement therapy” HRT supplies the estrogen (and for women who have not had a hysterectomy, a progesterone type hormone, called a progestin, to reduce the risk of uterine cancer from estrogen alone.) 

Menopause symptoms often include hot flashes, sweats, disturbed sleep, and an increased rate of bone loss. While it is generally agreed that HRT is very effective in dealing with the symptoms of menopause, there have been some studies suggesting an increased risk of breast cancer and heart disease.  The increased risk is fairly small, but must be considered when deciding if someone should use HRT.

If needed for quality of life reasons, it is agreed that “low risk” women can take HRT for up to 4 or 5 years.  (Check with your physician or clinician  and discuss the issues related to your own family history and personal risk factors carefully to make the best possible decision about HRT.

Alternatives to hormone replacement therapy

Hormone replacement therapy is not the right thing for every woman. When hormone replacement therapy is not suitable, there are other medications and changes in lifestyle that can bring similar results.

For women with high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels, other medications specific to treating these conditions may be prescribed. Drugs that reduce the thinning of bones – other than HRT- are available, like calcitonin, biphosphinates, selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERM's) and calcium supplements. Lifestyle changes also have a beneficial effect. Careful attention to diet, exercise, stress reduction and ridding yourself of unhealthy habits like smoking and excessive alcohol use – will no doubt positively impact your health.

Should you wish to explore non-traditional types of treatment, be sure to discuss all issues concerning treatments and therapies with your physician or clinician. Competent health care management requires knowledge of both conventional and alternative therapies for the practitioner to have a complete picture of your treatment plan.

A number of herbs have been promoted to ease menopausal symptoms. These include chamomile, black cohosh, wild yam root, dong quai, ginseng, and licorice root – to name a few. A warning to women – herbal remedies may cause side effects. Always consult with your  physician or clinician before taking herbs.

The decision to use complementary and alternative treatments is an important one. Before selecting an alternative therapy, consider the safety and effectiveness of the therapy or treatment, the expertise and qualifications of the physician , and the quality of the service delivery. These topics should be considered when selecting any physician or therapy.


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