Menopause occurs when a woman stops ovulating, her ovaries no longer produce oestrogen (one of the female sex hormones) and her monthly period (menstruation) ceases. It is a natural event that marks the end of the reproductive years, just as the first menstrual period during puberty marks the start.
Many women, although not all, experience uncomfortable symptoms during and after menopause, including hot flushes, night sweats and vaginal dryness. These symptoms and physical changes can be managed in various ways, including lifestyle changes like healthier eating and increased exercise, and by hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
HRT, also known as hormone therapy or HT, is medication containing hormones that a woman’s body stops producing after menopause. HRT is used to treat menopausal symptoms.
While HRT reduces the likelihood of some debilitating diseases such as osteoporosis, colorectal (bowel) cancer and possibly heart disease, it may increase the chances of developing a blood clot (when given in tablet form) or breast cancer (when some types are used long-term).
For women who experience menopause before the age of 45 (early or premature menopause), HRT is strongly recommended until the average age of menopause onset (around 51 years), unless there is a particular reason for a woman not to take it.
- Menopause symptoms that may be reduced by HRT
- Hot flushes and night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Thinning of vaginal walls
- Vaginal and bladder infections
- Mild urinary incontinence
- Aches and pains
- Cognitive changes, such as memory loss
- Reduced sex drive
- Mood disturbance
- Abnormal sensations, such as ‘prickling’ or ‘crawling’ under the skin
- Hair loss or abnormal hair growth
- Dry and itching eyes
- Tooth loss and gingivitis (gum problems).
- Added benefits of HRT
- HRT reduces the risk of various chronic conditions that can affect postmenopausal women, including:
- Diabetes – taking HRT around the time of menopause reduces women’s risk of developing diabetes.
- Osteoporosis – weakening of bones such that they break more easily. HRT prevents further bone density loss, preserving bone integrity and reducing the risk of fractures , but it is not usually recommended as the first choice of treatment except in younger postmenopausal women (under the age of 60).
- Bowel cancer – HRT slightly reduces the risk of colorectal cancer (bowel cancer)
- Long-term use of HRT is not recommended