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Side effects of HRT

A summary of the side effects and risks of HRT

Before making a decision on whether or not to use HRT, many women seek information on the possible side-effects. In this page, our menopause expert Eileen Durward discusses some of the downsides of using HRT and the symptoms that may arise from this treatment.

Minor side-effects of HRT

If you are not struggling with your symptoms of menopause, then taking HRT may make the experience more difficult. HRT rarely comes without its side effects. However, in the main, these side-effects are mild and usually preferable to severe symptoms of the menopause. Common side-effects include:

Venous Thromboembolism

This is the situation when blood clots form in the veins of the body. There are two common areas where clots can form as a side effect of HRT:

  • Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) – this is when a blood clot forms in one of the deep veins in the body, typically in the lower leg or thigh. Symptoms will include swelling of the leg or calf accompanied by pain.
  • Pulmonary Embolism (PE) – this is the condition which occurs if part of a blood clot present because of a DVT breaks off and travels to the lung.

Both DVT and PE are known medically as Venous Thromboembolism. The risks appear to be higher when taking Continuous Combined Therapy (CCT) rather than oestrogen-only HRT, and the risk is also higher in the first year of taking HRT.

Cancer in the breast, ovary or uterus

A small increase in the risk of these cancers has been reported as a side effect of HRT.

  • Breast tissue is highly sensitive to oestrogen and progesterone. The longer the body is exposed to these female hormones, the higher the likelihood of developing breast cancer. Continuous Combined Therapy (CCT) increases the risk of breast cancer more than oestrogen-only HRT.
  • The risk of developing cancer of the ovary slightly increases if HRT is taken. This risk decreases again once HRT is stopped.
  • Oestrogen in HRT increases the risk of cancer of the uterus. By taking CCT, the risk is reduced, and this is part of the reason why progesterone is included in HRT. There is no need to take progesterone if you have had a hysterectomy.


Another side effect of HRT is an increased risk of developing a stroke. This is a condition where the blood supply to the brain is affected, causing damage to the brain, and loss of brain function.

High doses of oestrogen (ie. more than 50 micrograms) increase the risk more than low doses. However, the risk of a stroke is higher from lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity and high blood pressure.

Heart disease

Heart disease is very common in the western world. This condition affects the arteries of the heart and is the cause of angina and heart attacks.

There is a small increased risk of heart disease as a side effect in women who have begun using Continuous Combined Therapy (CCT) more than 10 years after their menopause. However, there is no evidence to suggest that oestrogen-only HRT increases the risk of heart disease.

A.Vogel Talks Menopause: A simple detox to help your menopause

This week, with spring on its way, I thought it was the perfect time to talk about detox and how undertaking one or two a year can help improve your menopause. Plus, my weekly videos have also had a little spring clean, with a lovely makeover and brand new name – A.Vogel Talks Menopause.

Missed one? Watch them all on my menopause blog.

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This week's talking point

HRT 'increases ovarian cancer risk' Well ladies, it's in the news again. According to a recent study, HRT has been linked to an increased risk of ovarian cancer in women taking it for over 5 years.

Menopause Expert Eileen Durward looks at the medical facts behind the news headlines.

What do you think?

Have you found what you read useful? If so, I would love if you would leave your comment below. Thanks Eileen Durward

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