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Hormone Therapy: The Latest News

Some women can use menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) to help control the symptoms of menopause. MHT, which used to be called hormone replacement therapy (HRT), involves taking the hormones estrogen and progesterone. (Women who don't have a uterus anymore take just estrogen.)

MHT can be very good at helping with moderate to severe symptoms of the menopausal transition and preventing bone loss. But MHT also has some risks, especially if used for a long time.

A major study called the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) has explored the benefits and risks of menopausal hormone therapy. It has looked at many issues relating to MHT, including whether the health effects are different depending on when a woman starts MHT. Learn more about research results from WHI and other studies.

MHT can help with menopause by:

  • Reducing hot flashes, night sweats and related problems such as poor sleep and irritability
  • Treating vaginal symptoms, such as dryness and discomfort, and related effects, such as pain during sex
  • Slowing bone loss
  • Possibly easing mood swings and mild depressive symptoms (MHT is not an antidepressant medication — talk to your doctor if you are having signs of depression.)

For some women, MHT may increase their chances of:

  • Blood clots
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Breast cancer
  • Gall bladder disease

Research into the risks and benefits of MHT continues. For example, a recent study suggests that the low-dose patch form of MHT may not have the possible risk of stroke that other forms can have. Talk with your doctor about the positives and negatives of MHT based on your medical history and age. Keep in mind, too, that you may have symptoms when you stop MHT. You also can talk with your doctor about treatments other than MHT that can help deal with specific symptoms or prevent bone loss.

Keep in mind when considering MHT that:

  • Once a woman reaches menopause, MHT is recommended only as a short-term treatment.
  • Doctors very rarely recommend MHT to prevent certain chronic diseases like osteoporosis.
  • Women who have gone through menopause should not take MHT to prevent heart disease.
  • MHT should not be used to prevent memory loss, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease.

You should not use MHT if you:

Women who...

  • May be pregnant
  • Have problems with vaginal bleeding
  • Have had certain kinds of cancers (such as breast and uterine cancer)
  • Have had a stroke or heart attack
  • Have had blood clots
  • Have liver disease

MHT can also cause these side effects:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Bloating
  • Breast tenderness or swelling
  • Headaches
  • Mood changes
  • Nausea

If you choose MHT, experts recommend that you:

  • Use it at the lowest dose that helps
  • Use it for the shortest time needed

Visit the National Women's Health Information Center for more information about menopause and menopause treatments.

Last updated October 1, 2010