Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a treatment used to relieve the symptoms of menopause. Learn more about the benefits of HRT & finding the right treatment for you
The menopause is a natural part of ageing for a woman, when her periods stop, and she is no longer able to get pregnant naturally. It usually occurs between ages 45 and 55 as her oestrogen levels begin to decline.
Unfortunately, many women experience symptoms of menopause that affect many areas of their life, such as sleep and sex drive. In fact, over 60% of women in the UK going through menopause experience symptoms that result in behaviour changes.^
HRT is an effective way of controlling any symptoms that disrupt daily life.
What is HRT?
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is treatment that helps relieve the symptoms of menopause, such as hot flushes and mood swings. It helps by replacing the hormones that may drop to a lower level in the body as someone approaches the menopause.
Many menopause symptoms will pass on their own after a few years, but they can make life extremely difficult for some women, so HRT helps offer relief for many women.
How does HRT work?
There are various ways of using HRT and finding the right one for you can require some time, so regular check-ins with your doctor may help you navigate the process.
HRT is available in different formats including tablets, skin patches, sprays, gels, vaginal creams, and pessaries. These all contain a dose of hormones that are distributed around the body following absorption into the blood. You can also use lower-dose vaginal creams, pessaries or rings which help relieve any vaginal symptoms of menopause.
The hormones involved in HRT are oestrogen and progesterone. Most women take a combination of both hormones, although women who do not have a womb can take oestrogen on its own.
What are the benefits of HRT?
The main benefit of HRT is that it can help relieve some of the more upsetting or disruptive symptoms of menopause. These include:
• Hot flushes
• Night sweats
• Mood swings
• Vaginal dryness and itching
• Reduced sex drive
By easing these symptoms, HRT helps women continue their day-to-day life without any disruption – for example, many women find night sweats prevent them from getting a good night’s sleep. The hormones used in HRT can also help prevent fractures caused by thinning bones (osteoporosis), which is more common after the menopause.
What are the risks of HRT?
The benefits of HRT are generally thought to outweigh any risks. However, if you do have any concerns about taking HRT, talk to your GP or a Boots pharmacist.
The risks of HRT are thought to include:
• An increased risk of breast cancer – there will be little to no change in the risk of breast cancer if you take oestrogen-only HRT, and a small increase associated with combined HRT. This risk is related to how long you take HRT and will fall after you stop taking it
• Blood clots – there is a small risk of blood clots if you take HRT tablets. There is no increased risk from patches or gels
• Heart disease and strokes – HRT tablets are associated with a small increase in the risk of a stroke when taken after the age of 60, however the overall risk is still small. When taken before the age of 60, HRT tablets may actually reduce your risk of heart disease and strokes
Regular mammograms are always encouraged when taking HRT.
Who is HRT suitable for?
Most women who are experiencing symptoms of menopause or perimenopause can take HRT.
It may not be suitable for you if you:
• Have a history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer or womb cancer or blood clots
• Have untreated high blood pressure
• Have liver disease
• Are pregnant – it is still possible to get pregnant whilst taking HRT, so make sure to use contraception until two years after your last period
How do I begin HRT?
If you’d like to begin taking HRT to relieve your symptoms of menopause, visit your GP for a consultation. There may even be a doctor at your practice that specialises in menopause.
You can usually begin taking HRT as soon as you first get symptoms and without needing to have any tests. Your GP should take your family medical history into account when recommending any treatment.
You will usually start HRT with a low dose that may need to be increased at a later stage. You may need to try several forms of HRT before finding one which works for you, as every woman is different – some women are more sensitive to hormone changes, whereas others may need a few weeks before they begin to feel the effects of the treatment. If you don’t feel as though the treatment is helping your symptoms or you are concerned about side effects, then schedule another appointment with your GP to discuss.
You can also access HRT through our Boots Online Doctor HRT Menopause Treatment*. Complete an online consultation and a clinician will review your medical history and answers within 24 hours and prescribe treatment if appropriate.
Are there any side effects to HRT?
Common side effects from HRT include:
• Breast tenderness
• Feeling sick
• Abdominal pain
• Vaginal bleeding
Most side effects should pass within three months, but if you’re concerned then make an appointment to check in with your GP.
Debunking HRT myths
Starting HRT can be a big decision, which can be made even more difficult by contrasting information available online. These are four of the most commonly believed myths about HRT:
Myth #1 – HRT causes cancer
HRT does not cause cancer in adults without a history of hormone-sensitive cancer. The small increase in risk comes from your body receiving more hormones than it naturally requires.
Myth #2 – HRT isn’t for women who enter menopause early
Actually, HRT is recommended for women who begin menopause early, such as in their 40s. HRT will help replace the hormones that their body would normally be producing until the natural age of menopause. This also helps reduce their risk of conditions like heart disease and osteoporosis.
Myth #3 – HRT is only beneficial for severe symptoms
HRT is considered beneficial for any symptoms that affect your day-to-day life.
Myth #4 – You can only take a short dose of HRT
You can continue to take HRT at the lowest effective dose for as long as needed. Younger women are advised not to stop taking HRT before the age of 50 to help regulate the hormones their body should be producing.
Approximately 38% of women experiencing menopause symptoms seek help from a GP^. If you think you would benefit from taking HRT, book an appointment with your doctor or visit Boots Online Doctor HRT Menopause Treatment* for more information.