As women go through menopause, they experience symptoms that may be less than desirable: hot flashes, vaginal dryness and mood swings top the list. To ward off these problems, some women choose hormone replacement therapy, or HRT. HRT helps bump up these women's decreasing levels of estrogen and progesterone to keep their hormone levels consistent.
The problem? Hormone replacement therapy may increase women's chances of getting certain types of cancer, including breast and ovarian cancer. Since the mid-2000s, when this link became clear in numerous medical studies, doctors have been less willing to prescribe HRT.
But recently, newer studies show that there are even more benefits than previously thought. Most notably, HRT is shown to reduce age-related decline of strength and muscle mass in women.
Why Does Increased Muscle Mass Matter to Older Women?
Women tend to lose muscle mass as they age in greater amounts than men do, leaving them less able to move around and stay active. A lack of exercise in older women can mean more cardiovascular issues, including heart attacks.
In studies done over a decade, there were fewer deaths, heart failures and heart attacks in women who took HRT than those who did not.
As well, older women are more likely to fall and incur injuries - which happens more often when muscles are weak.
How Should HRT Be Taken?
Women who swallow hormones in pill form have the hormones first synthesized by the liver. This can lead to more side effects, like an increased risk of blood clots. On the other hand, women who use a skin patch tend to need a smaller amount of hormones because they are absorbed directly into the bloodstream.
Your doctor will recommend a type of administration and dosage that will work best for your needs.
When Should Women Consider HRT?
If a woman has a hysterectomy -- removal of the uterus and ovaries -- she will need to use some sort of HRT as her body will not be making any hormones. On the other hand, women who go through menopause will likely do so gradually, making it more difficult to decide exactly when to start therapy. Most doctors will only keep women on HRT for 5 to 10 years at a maximum to keep from having some of the more undesirable risks, like cancer, so keep in mind that you'll want to wait as long as you reasonably can to start.
Most women will begin to have some symptoms of menopause before they actually start it. This is a good time to discuss with a doctor at South Baldwin Obstetrics & Gynecology PC what types of HRT exist and what will help you the most.