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The Pros and Cons of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
One of the biological processes that women will have to go through as they reach their mature years is menopause. Adjusting to the whole process can be tough though, as menopause is associated with hormonal fluctuations and the body reacts in a variety of ways as it tries to adjust to these changes. As a woman finally exits her child-bearing years, hormones that used to be in abundance will start to decrease and will continue to do so for the rest of her life. As the body tries to deal with the hormonal changes, symptoms usually abound from mood swings and hot flashes to even depression.
To counteract these symptoms, a woman can choose to undergo HRT or hormone replacement therapy. It involves natural methods of replacing a woman’s diminished hormones so as to minimize menopausal symptoms. However, the procedure comes with both upsides and downsides with some of the cons cited include a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, and breast cancer. If your menopausal symptoms are starting to interfere with the day-to-day activities that you’re potentially considering HRT, it is best to learn everything you can about itꟷ risks included, to determine whether this will be an ideal option for you.
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Back when HRT was still a new concept, it was usually prescribed as a synthetic prescription medication. Typically, these drugs were created using a concoction of hormones that were extracted from the urine of pregnant horses. Both the synthetic forms of progesterone (Provera) and estrogen (Premarin) are used for this drug and they used to be the preferred HRT version. Over the years, however, their popularity waned. After clinical trials revealed that there were risks identified with the use of these synthetic drugs, most have leaned towards an alternative form of the treatment called “bioidentical HRT”.
With bioidentical HRT, a special concoction of hormones that are supposed to replace the diminished hormones in the body will be mixed by a pharmacist. What’s different with these hormones is the fact that they are extracted from hormones that can be found in nature. The theory is that these hormones will mimic the natural hormones that the body produces. Hence, when they are introduced into the body, it will not be able to tell the difference. In a way, it tricks the body to make it feel as if it is still in its former state and as result, it tends to be more effective for many women. However, there is no concrete data yet from medical research that identifies the specific amount of hormone needed for the therapy to really give out the best results. This is why when going through the treatment, several visits to the doctor may be required so regular tests can be conducted to determine whether the HRT level you are getting is indeed working for you.
The dose can vary from one person to the next and this is precisely why it can be difficult to test the effectiveness and safety of bioidentical hormones. Unfortunately, this lack of information on the potential risks of bioidentical hormones has led many women to assume that they are safer compared to synthetic ones.
Still, the “natural” aspect of these hormones is a bit vague. After all, these hormones aren’t really found in the form that they are used for the treatment in nature. They are still made to be in the state that they are so technically, they are synthesized since they are extracted from soy and yam. The fact that these chemicals are also being used in soy supplements means that technically, bioidentical hormones are classified as natural supplements. Due to this, they are being regulated by the USFDA under different rules compared to what usually covers over-the-counter and prescription drugs This means that there is no need for them to undergo rigorous human tests. It is also for this reason that it is hard to ascertain their overall effectiveness and safety. Despite the lack of a definite answer, many experts regard bioidentical HRT to possess the same risks present with synthetic HRT.
When a woman is of child-bearing age, her ovaries are known to produce progesterone and estrogen, which are hormones that are responsible for regulating the reproductive cycle. They are also credited for promoting the use of calcium in the body. Over time, the ovaries will decrease the production of these hormones. This is why, as a woman grow older, she will experience the following downsides as a result of lower estrogen and progesterone levels:
- Lower sex drive
- Bone loss
- Mood swings
- Low energy
- Hot flashes
Through hormone replacement therapy, the levels of progesterone and estrogen in the body are replaced with the aim being to reduce the aforementioned effects. The benefits of the treatment aren’t limited to just easing the common symptoms associated with menopause. Those who are undergoing HRT may also enjoy such benefits as reduced risk of cataracts, tooth loss, and diabetes. Thanks to HRT, more and more women are able to enjoy a comfortable and more productive life despite menopause.
However, it is also important to remember that when looking into HRT, one mustn’t only look into its benefits but also its possible risks.
One of the most common risks HRT has been associated with since its introduction is cancer. Breast cancer has been identified as the highest potential risk women undergoing HRT may have to contend with. According to studies, there seems to be a link between breast cancer and women who are undergoing synthetic HRT. None of these risks were identified with those getting bioidentical HRT, however. According to the study, the longer a woman is under HRT, the higher her risk of breast cancer is. This risk does decrease though the moment the treatment is stopped.
There is also a higher chance of menopausal women with an intact uterus getting diagnosed with uterine cancer if they are undergoing estrogen HRT. This is the reason that it is common for doctors to also prescribe progesterone HRT along with the estrogen treatment. However, if a woman has undergone a hysterectomy, then there would be no need for progesterone and she can just take the estrogen HRT only.
Stroke and osteoporosis are additional risks for women undergoing hormone replacement therapy. Postmenopausal women are typically vulnerable to osteoporosis. As a result, synthetic HRT is generally used these days to address menopausal symptoms for the short term. Still, one must also understand that even without HRT, the risk of developing osteoporosis exists.
While it is true that there are risks attached to hormone replacement therapy, when it comes to severe menopausal symptoms, it remains an effective treatment. It has also paved the way for menopausal women to experience a better quality of life. If you are considering going through the treatment yourself, the best thing to do is to consult with your doctor. He will help identify the severity of your symptoms as well as evaluate the variety of treatment options for you. At the same time, he will keep you informed of anything and everything you need to know about the procedure, so at the end of the day, you get to make a well-informed and educated decision.