Dr. Louise Newson, a GP (family practitioner) and menopause specialist.
You may think you’re too young, too old, your symptoms aren’t bad enough, you don’t like the sound of the risks, or you have a medical condition that probably means taking HRT is not a good idea for you.
These are all common reasons why women steer clear of HRT – but what does the evidence say?
The average age of the menopause is 51 years, but symptoms of declining hormones often start in your mid-40’s. Some women may start showing signs of the menopause in their 30’s or even 20’s.
Hormone Replacement Therapy or HRT is there to help menopausal symptoms, regardless of your age. If your periods have changed in frequency or flow and you have experienced any of the multitude of menopausal symptoms, you should talk to a health professional and consider HRT.
Do you feel you’ve missed the boat when it comes to HRT? HRT is most beneficial when started within 10 years of the menopause, but it can benefit women past this point too. As well as relieving symptoms, HRT protects your future health by lowering your risk of developing the bone-weakening disease osteoporosis, as well as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, bowel cancer and dementia.
If you have had a hysterectomy, taking estrogen replacement actually lowers your risk of breast cancer, compared to women not on HRT.
I’ll Wait Till My Symptoms get Worse
Hot flushes, night sweats, achy muscles and joints, low mood, anxiety, dry skin, sore genitals, worsening headaches or allergies, memory loss – if you are suffering from any of these common symptoms, why not take something to improve it?
Evidence is clear that HRT is the most effective treatment for menopausal symptoms and for most women, the sooner you take it the better you feel. It can take up to three months once you start to feel the full benefits, so why put it off?
What’s the Catch?
There are two small risks with some types of HRT – breast cancer and blood clots. If are over 51 and you take both estrogen and progestogen (combined HRT) there might be a very small risk of breast cancer in some women. However, around 1 in 8 women develop breast cancer whether or not they take HRT. Your family history, age and general health determine more of your actual risk. For example, if you are overweight or drink a large glass of wine a night, you have a greater risk of breast cancer than someone who is healthy and takes combined HRT.
The risk of a blood clot only applies if you have had a blood clot in the past, liver disease, or migraines. If this is you, don’t worry – it is only the tablet form of HRT that poses this risk and there are many ways to take estrogen through the skin instead (e.g. patch, gel, spray), that have no risk of blood clot.
My Medical Condition Rules out HRT
The only condition you could have where HRT is not advised first line is some hormone-sensitive cancers, such as estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer. Women are often told by healthcare professionals they can’t take HRT because of migraine or family history of cancer for example, but this is not usually the case.
Take time to read up about HRT and the risks of your condition – or ask a menopause expert – you may be surprised to learn that despite what you have been told, the evidence does not show any greater risk for you.
Dr. Louise Newson is a GP (family practitioner) and menopause specialist. She developed the Menopause Doctor website and is the founder of the ‘balance’ menopause app. Louise created both platforms to empower individuals with evidence-based information and provide tools to access safe and effective treatments for the menopause. Louise has no financial association with any companies that produce HRT or other menopause related treatments.
The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.