Menopause– for some, it is a distant eventuality; for others it is a distant memory. For many, it is a present reality and, often, an unpleasant one. Menopause can bring with it hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, insomnia and weight gain. A common method of treatment for the worst of these symptoms is hormone replacement therapy (HRT), in which estrogen or a combination of estrogen and progestin is taken. The majority of women consider this treatment as menopause approaches or post-menopause, but very few are fully aware of what they are doing.
Most medical treatments have negative side effects; HRT is no different. In 2002, the Women’s Health Initiative released findings that connected the therapy to increased risk of breast cancer, dementia, heart attack, stroke and blood clots. The study had found that it was the combination of estrogen and progestin that posed the largest risk, but estrogen on its own offered dangers as well. Since then, the rate of HRT has declined and with it the breast cancer rate, definitively linking the treatment with the disease. However, this doesn’t mean that you should immediately disregard HRT as an option. There are benefits. HRT reduces hot flashes and vaginal discomfort, and helps prevent osteoporosis. What’s more, it might strengthen your libido. A recent study found that women taking estrogen and progesterone (a specific progestin) increased sexual thought by 32 percent and sexual interest by 44 percent, both of which could make post-menopausal life a little more fun. But is more sex worth more health risks?
It depends, and, really, that’s not the right question. HRT isn’t about boosting your libido. You can do that in a variety of different ways; besides, we already know that most seniors aren’t having any trouble in the bedroom. What you want to ask when considering HRT is what will it alleviate and is there a safer way to achieve the same goals? Sometimes, there is. Your doctor may recommend diet and exercise changes that could lessen hot flashes and other symptoms. But sometimes, there isn’t, and the benefits from short-term use outweigh the risks. If that’s the case, take hormones, but do so with knowledge. Talk to your doctor, read the reports, know the dangers and only take it as long as necessary. The negative aspects increase with age, so the younger you are when you start/stop HRT, the better. You’ve got enough on your plate already; you shouldn’t add to it by ignorantly jumping into a risky treatment.
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