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What is Hormone Replacement Therapy?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), also known as hormone replacement treatment, is a drug regimen which is designed to supplement hormones naturally created by the body. When the body ceases to produce these hormones, typically due to menopause, hormone replacement therapy can keep hormone levels stable, thus reducing the health effects of a decline in hormone production.

This medical treatment is used most commonly to treat menopausal women, or women who have experienced hysterectomies. Without the use of hormone replacement therapy, these women would experience a number of symptoms as the production of sex hormones declined, including hot flashes, mood swings, and vaginal dryness. Many women find these symptoms uncomfortable or debilitating, so they choose to pursue hormone replacement therapy.

Menopause is usually diagnosed when a woman has failed to experience a menstrual cycle for at least one year. Many doctors believe that administering hormone replacement therapy as early in menopause as possible is much more beneficial, and safer for the woman. The use of hormone replacement therapy, in addition to reducing the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause, will also reduce the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis, two conditions for which older women tend to be at greater risk. However, hormone replacement therapy is not entirely without risk. Studies have shown that it can increase blood clots, risks of certain cancers, and stroke.

There are many types of hormone replacement therapy, with most including some form of estrogen, and some form of progesterone. The drugs can be administered through pills, injections, creams, skin patches, and suppositories, and the dosages may vary widely. Generally, using a low dosage and keeping a close eye on the health of the patient is recommended, with the precise dosage being determined by the severity of the symptoms of menopause. There are also some cases in which hormone replacement therapy is not advised, making it important to discuss one's medical history with a doctor before embarking on hormone treatment.

In addition to being used to treat women going through menopause, HRT is also used by transgendered people. Typically hormones are administered after a lengthy period in therapy which allows the patient to fully explore his or her gender issues, and the hormones are given by injection. The use of sex hormones essentially allows the patient to go through puberty again, developing the secondary sexual characteristics of the gender which he or she feels most closely aligned with.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By mendocino — On Jan 05, 2009

It appears that alcohol and hormones do not mix at all. In any hormone therapy, intake of alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer. Even one or two drinks increased the risk by three times in a Danish study.

The belief is that alcohol prevents estrogen from metabolizing, leaving it in the bloodstream, and excess amount of estrogen in the bloodstream is linked with breast cancer.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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