Estrogen replacement, also called hormone replacement therapy, replaces the hormones that naturally decrease with menopause. While menopause is often associated with older women, the removal of the ovaries at any point also causes menopause. Estrogen replacement showed promising benefits for women, but starting in 2002, concerns about the safety of the therapy began. Hormone replacement comes with potentially serious risks that all women should understand before starting.
The lowering estrogen levels cause many changes in the body. Not all women experience the same symptoms. The severity and length of the symptoms also varies between women. Symptoms might include hot flashes, difficulty sleeping, pain during sexual intercourse and urinary infections, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The hormone therapy boosts the estrogen levels, replacing the hormones that are gone. The purpose of estrogen replacement is to ease the symptoms a woman experiences. The hormones might be prescribed on a continuous use or cyclic use regimen. Continuous use requires taking hormones every day, while cyclic use means you only take the hormones on certain days.
Estrogen by itself is typically only prescribed for women who have had a hysterectomy. A woman who still has her uterus will also take progesterone or progestin. Estrogen by itself can cause cell overgrowth in the uterine lining, which increases the risk of uterine cancer. The progesterone keeps the cell growth under control.
The hormone replacement therapy often improves the discomforts of menopause. A woman taking estrogen might notice a reduction in hot flashes, vaginal dryness and discomfort during intercourse. Hormone therapy is generally only used on a short-term basis, but during that time a woman might also reduce her risks for other conditions, including osteoporosis, colorectal cancer and heart disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The hormone therapy is meant to ease the side effects of lowered estrogen, but it can cause other side effects. Women sometimes experience mood swings, nausea, breast changes, headaches and bleeding, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Long-term hormone therapy can increase the risk of stroke and heart attack in some women.
An assessment by your physician gives you better insight into the benefits versus the risks of estrogen replacement for your specific case. If you have concerns about hormone replacement, discuss alternatives with your doctor, such as lifestyle changes. Choosing the lowest dose possible based on your needs might help lower the negative side effects.