Menopausal hormone therapy (MHT), also called hormone replacement therapy, is a treatment that is sometimes recommended to address common symptoms of menopause and protect against osteoporosis. Throughout the years, research on postmenopausal women has led to a better sense of the benefits and risks of MHT.
Types of Menopausal Hormone Therapy
There are various forms of MHT, such as taking estrogen alone or in combination with progestin, a form of progesterone. Combination treatments that include both estrogen and progestin are usually prescribed to all women who have not had a hysterectomy. This is because taking estrogen alone increases endometrial growth (uterine lining) and has been linked to higher risks for endometrial cancer. This makes estrogen-only MHT treatments best only for women without a uterus.
How Can Menopausal Hormone Therapy Help Me?
The benefits experienced by women who undergo MHT can include:
- Reduced hot flashes
- Improved sleep
- Better quality of life
MHT can also be helpful for women who are at risk for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition that occurs when we lose too much bone, don’t make enough bone, or both. This causes bones to become weak and increases the risk of breaking a bone.
For women, the risk of developing osteoporosis increases sharply after menopause as levels of the hormone estrogen fall in the body. MHT treatments that include estrogen can help delay bone mass loss, making it a useful tool to protect against osteoporosis. The benefits of MHT in preserving bone mass appear to be greatest when treatment is started within 10 years of menopause or before the age of 60. Not all women are at risk for osteoporosis, so it’s important to talk with a doctor if you are interested in starting MHT to prevent this disease.
Risks of Menopausal Hormone Therapy
MHT is not appropriate for all postmenopausal women and is usually not advised for women with:
- Liver disease
- Gallbladder disease
- A personal or family history of breast cancer
Potential side effects of MHT can include increased risks for pancreatitis, stroke, blood clots, and coronary heart disease. Each of these outcomes is serious and potentially life-threatening, and women’s risks for experiencing them varies.
Deciding whether or not to begin MHT can be a difficult decision. If you are interested in these therapies, it’s critical to talk with your doctor to go over your medical history and evaluate if the benefits of MHT outweigh your personal risk factors for serious complications.