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What is Female Hormone Therapy?

By J.M. Densing
Updated May 17, 2024
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Female hormone therapy, also known as hormone replacement therapy, is a treatment for the relief of uncomfortable symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness. The treatment replaces the hormones that a woman's body no longer manufactures. It's available in several different forms such as pills or injections, and most women report minimal side effects. There are some risks associated with long-term female hormone therapy including increased chance of heart disease or stroke. Short-term use appears to be safe for the majority of women, but should always be discussed with a medical professional.

Menopause is the ending of a woman's ability to reproduce. In addition to the cessation of menstruation, the woman's body also stops making certain female hormones that affect sexual and reproductive health. The purpose of female hormone therapy is to replace these missing hormones, especially estrogen and progestin. This helps to relieve uncomfortable symptoms from the lack of hormones. These symptoms include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, sleep difficulties, mood swings, and decreased desire for sexual relations.

There are several different forms of female hormone therapy available. The two most common types are estrogen plus progestin and estrogen only, and they are available in varying dosages. Some women may need to try a few dosages to find the optimal level that is most effective for them. The treatment is available in several different forms, including pills, injections, patches, and vaginal creams, rings, or inserts. Dosage instructions should always be followed carefully.

Some of the side effects of female hormone therapy include nausea, bloating, breast tenderness, mood swings, headaches, and water retention. These are usually very mild, but some women find them uncomfortable. Side effects often ease over time or changing the dosage can reduce them to a comfortable level. Side effects are more common with estrogen plus progestin. Many women do not experience side effects or find them to be preferable to post-menopausal symptoms and discomfort.

Long-term use of female hormone therapy has several serious issues associated with it such as increased risk of heart disease, blood clots, stroke, and breast and uterine cancers. These threats can be elevated for women who have other risk factors. Short-term use, i.e, five years or less, is considered to be safe for most women, and may offer protection from breast and other cancers as well as osteoporosis. The use of female hormone therapy, however, should be discussed with a medical professional who is fully aware of the patient's complete medical history. After weighing the risks and benefits, the woman can choose the best option for her.

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