What is HRT? Types of HRT, side effects and alternatives to HRT

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What is HRT?

HRT is the commonly used abbreviation for Hormone Replacement Therapy. It is a type of treatment used to relieve the symptoms of menopause in women. HRT replaces the female hormones no longer produced after menopause and involves taking small doses of these hormones, oestrogen or progesterone.

Female hormones, known as oestrogen and progesterone are produced naturally in the body until the time of menopause. With each menstrual cycle, oestrogen helps release eggs from the ovaries and regulates a woman’s period. Progesterone prepares the womb for pregnancy and protects the lining of the womb.

Although HRT was first produced in the 1940s, it was not until the 1960s that it became more available and widely used. Studies performed between 2000 and 2004 raised concerns about the safety of HRT, as there was evidence to suggest that it increased the risk of female cancers and other side effects. However, the evidence is considered by some to be controversial. Nevertheless, this scientific information has led many women to seek alternative forms of treatment.

What types of HRT are there?

HRT can be taken in many forms: tablet; patch; gel; cream; implant or vaginally. There are more than 50 types of HRT available, and so certain types of HRT will be more suited to you than others. It is important to find the correct type for your individual situation.

Common forms include:

  • Cyclical HRT - this imitates the natural menstrual cycle
  • Oestrogen-only HRT – this is normally prescribed to women who have had a hysterectomy
  • Continuous Combined Therapy (CCT) – this combines oestrogen and progesterone
  • Local oestrogen such as vaginal tablets or creams
  • Tibolone – this is a man-made hormone

Read more information on types of HRT.

What are the side effects of HRT?

Side effects to HRT may occur in some women, and generally disappear once the treatment has stopped. Such side effects can include nausea, cramps, irritation, headaches or dry eyes.

HRT is also associated with more serious risks including:

  • Venous thromboembolism – an increased tendency for blood to clot in the veins
  • Cancer in the breast, uterus or ovary
  • Stroke
  • Heart Disease

Read more about the side effects of HRT.

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What alternatives are there to HRT?

Many women can manage the symptoms of menopause without HRT through using more natural treatments. Alternative approaches can manage the symptoms by creating a similar effect in the body as oestrogen, or allowing the body to manage the physical changes brought about by menopause.

Such alternatives include:

  • Symptom relieving drugs
  • Soy products
  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and managing stress
  • Natural remedies
  • Alternative therapies

Read more about alternatives to HRT.

Approaching your doctor

While we can make you aware of the current scientific information available about HRT, there are certain situations when a face-to-face consultation with your doctor is important and necessary. Such instances are to discuss:

  • Starting HRT - While the decision to take HRT or not is a personal one, a doctor will be able to discuss the various options surrounding the menopause and HRT with you. This will ensure that a solution most suited to you will be found.
  • Risks of HRT - HRT may present a greater risk to some women, particularly those with a history of cancer, blood clots, strokes or heart disease. This will need to be discussed with a doctor before HRT can be prescribed.
  • Taking HRT - It is important to have regular health check-ups with your doctor while taking HRT.

Read more on approaching your doctor about HRT.

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Did you know?

You won’t get the menopause the minute you turn 50! The average starting age is actually between 45 and 55 and it can often depend on a number of factors including hereditary, weight and health, however every single woman will have an individual menopause.

Learn the truth behind other menopause myths

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