Hormone Replacement Therapy Side Effects
All supplements and medications carry the risk of side effects.
When taking estrogen, the following side effects may be noticed:
- Breast tenderness and swelling
- Leg cramps
- Swelling in other areas of the body
- Vaginal bleeding
Typically, the side effects will pass in a few weeks. Self-care measures to reduce the side effects may include taking the estrogen with food to reduce nausea and estrogen, regular exercise and stretching to reduce leg cramps, and/or consuming a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet to reduce breast tenderness.
When taking progestin, the following side effects may be noticed:
- Breast tenderness
- Headaches or migraines
- Mood swings
- Vaginal bleeding
- Abdominal pain
Typically, these side effects pass in a few weeks. If side effects of progestin do not pass, a different medication can be prescribed.
Many women believe that weight gain is associated with HRT. There has been no substantiated evidence to this belief; however, many women gain weight during menopause, regardless of whether HRT is prescribed.
Hormone Replacement Therapy Risks
Although HRT seems to be highly effective in treating the symptoms associated with menopause – and is basically supplementing the hormones that are “missing” from the body – there are definite risks associated with these medications.
In a very large clinical trial, combination estrogen-progestin was found to increase the risk of several health conditions which may include heart disease, breast cancer, stroke, and blood clots.
Subsequent studies have found that these risks vary. According to Mayo Clinic, “women who begin hormone therapy more than 10 or 20 years from the onset of menopause or at age 60 or older are at greater risk of the above conditions. But if hormone therapy is started before the age of 60 or within 10 years of menopause, the benefits appear to outweigh the risks.”
Mayo Clinic goes on to say, “the risks of hormone therapy may also vary depending on whether estrogen is given alone or with progestin, the dose and type of estrogen, and other health factors such as your risks of heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease, cancer risks, and family medical history.”
Given these risks, who should consider HRT? HRT is still considered the most effective treatment for symptoms of menopause, so if symptoms are debilitating, the benefits may outweigh the risks, especially if you’re a healthy woman and you…
- Stopped periods before age 40, which is considered premature menopause, or lost normal function of your ovaries before age 40, which is considered premature ovarian insufficiency.
- Have lost bone mass and are not tolerating other treatments.
- Have moderate to severe hot flashes and/or other menopause symptoms.
There are women who should avoid HRT completely. For example, due to the heightened risk of breast cancer, women who have already had breast cancer, as well as endometrial and ovarian cancer, should avoid HRT. Women who have had or who have blood clots in their extremities, who have had a stroke, a liver disease, and any unexplained vaginal bleeding should generally avoid HRT as well.
What if You Can’t Take Hormone Replacement Therapy?
As we’ve discussed, not every person is able to take HRT – and some women choose not to take HRT to manage their menopausal symptoms, and that's perfectly okay!
Did you know there are many alternative, homeopathic and natural ways to combat symptoms? There are numerous in fact!