If you are over 40, it is natural for you to realize that menopause and hormone therapy are looming on the horizon. Menopause usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. When a woman has gone through 12 months of not getting her periods, she is said to have gone through her menopause.
Although menopause is a normal change, it does present with some uncomfortable problems. Levels of the hormones, estrogen and progesterone, decrease during menopause leading to changes in the time and flow of periods, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, osteoporosis (thinning of bones), night sweats, and dyspareunia (painful sex). Hormone therapy is given to treat these problems.
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Hormone therapy replaces the female hormone estrogen. The treatment is given as estrogen only or estrogen with progestin. Estrogen only is given to women who have their uterus and ovaries. Hormone therapy is provided through tablets, skin patches, implants, vaginal creams, gels, rings, and custom-mixed hormones.
If you are unsure about menopause and hormone therapy, remember that for a large number of women these problems go away over time without any treatment. However, if you do choose to take hormone therapy for your symptoms, there are a few facts that you must bear in mind.
• Hormone therapy is not a single treatment option. Treatment will depend on symptoms, medical history, and preferences.
• It does not provide contraceptive protection. Use contraception for a year after your last period if you are over 50, and for two years, if you are younger.
• It very effectively treats the most common symptoms of menopause; it reduces the risk of osteoporosis and in combination reduces the risk of bowel cancer.
• It has a large number of side effects, which include weight gain, tender breasts, nausea, headaches, and mood changes. These side effects may be reduced by altering the type and dose of hormone therapy.
• It also poses some serious risks, which include an increased risk of blood clots, heart attacks, strokes, breast cancer, gall bladder disease, and endometrial cancer.
• It should therefore be taken at the lowest dose for the shortest period of time needed during menopause.
• Contraindications of hormone therapy during menopause include possibility of pregnancy, abnormal vaginal bleeding, stroke or heart attack, cancer, or liver disease.
• It should not be used for preventive treatment.
Discuss the various options with your doctor and weigh the risks against the benefits. If you are on hormone therapy, visit your doctor three months after starting treatment and once a year after that.
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