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What is Postmenopausal Hormone Therapy?

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  • Written By: Madeleine A.
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 02 May 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2019
    Conjecture Corporation
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Postmenopausal hormone therapy describes the hormones, progestin, and estrogen that are prescribed to relieve intrusive menopausal symptoms. The hormone estrogen relieves the actual symptoms of menopause, while the hormone progestin is given to prevent the risk of developing uterine cancer. Giving estrogen alone may cause the uterine lining to thicken or overgrow, which can potentially lead to uterine or endometrial cancer. Patients who have undergone a hysterectomy can be treated with estrogen, minus progestin, as they do not have a uterus. In women who still have a uterus, it is important that they have regular pap smears and pelvic exams while receiving therapy.

Generally, postmenopausal hormone therapy can be prescribed in different forms. It is available for use orally, via transdermal patch, and vaginally. In addition, postmenopausal hormone therapy is available as a cream that is rubbed into the skin. Postmenopausal hormone therapy is available only with a physician's prescription. There are alternative methods to hormone replacement therapy that can be purchased over the counter, however, they may not be as effective in relieving symptoms. In addition, alternative methods have not been proven to replicate the effects of traditional hormone replacement therapy.

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Sometimes postmenopausal hormone therapy is contraindicated in certain patients. Women who have a personal or family history of breast cancer or uterine cancer may not be suitable candidates for hormone replacement therapy, because estrogen may increase a woman's risk of these types of cancers. In addition, women who are at risk for heart attack or stroke may not be ideal candidates for hormones because they can increase the risk of blood clots. Most times, however, postmenopausal hormone therapy is tolerated very well in most patients, and they find that the benefits outweigh the risks. If side effects do occur, such as vaginal bleeding, dosages can be adjusted to minimize them.

Occasionally, when postmenopausal hormone therapy is not an option for women, the physician may recommend alternative treatments such as herbal remedies. Alternative options for symptoms of menopause include soy products and black cohosh. Soy mimics the effects of estrogen and therefore can be effective in relieving hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Although soy supplements are available over the counter and considered relatively safe, they are not without risk. Because they mimic the effects of estrogen, they also may increase the risk for the same cancers that estrogen does. Women should tell their doctors before embarking on alternative treatment plans.

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