Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and its use in the treatment and management of the menopause

HRT can help relieve many of the symptoms of the menopause such as the hot sweats and vaginal dryness. It also reduces the risk of osteoporosis.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is one of the main treatments for menopausal women. As the name suggests, HRT replaces some of the hormones that are reduced during and after the menopause. It usually includes a combination of oestrogen and progesterone. Research suggests that oestrogen on its own may increase the risk of cancer in the lining of the womb. GP’s tend to prescribe oestrogen if you have had an operation to remove your womb (a hysterectomy).

There are several ways HRT can be taken, including:

  • Cream or gel, applied to the skin or directly into your vagina if you are experiencing vaginal dryness.
  • Tablets, taken by mouth or placed directly into your vagina to treat dryness.
  • A patch that you stick on your skin.
  • An implant, administered under local anaesthetic. Small pellets of oestrogen are inserted under the skin of your stomach, buttock or thigh.

HRT can help relieve many of the symptoms of the menopause such as hot sweats, vaginal dryness and helps to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a disease in which the density and quality of bones is reduced and they become more porous and fragile. This can lead to an increased risk of fractures.

As with all prescription medicines, HRT can also have side-effects. These include tenderness of the breasts, heavier periods, water retention, weight gain, and depression. Changing the type and dose of HRT may reduce the side-effects, so always discuss the effects of your treatment with your doctor.

Taking HRT for a long time may slightly increase the risk of developing certain conditions, including some cancers, deep vein thrombosis, gallstones, stroke and possibly heart disease.

If the menopause is causing you problems you should talk to your doctor about the relative benefits and risks of taking HRT, and other options such as non-HRT treatments.

The decision to prescribe HRT should be based on a thorough evaluation of the potential benefits and possible risks of treatment undertaken by your healthcare professional.

Sources used in writing this article are available on request

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Last revised: 12 March 2014
Next review: 12 March 2017