Home Am I at Risk? Hormone Therapy - Benefits & Risks

Hormone Therapy - Benefits & Risks

Is hormone therapy safe to use to treat menopausal symptoms?

Although hormone therapy is not recommended for treating or preventing heart disease, it is an effective treatment for postmenopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness or discomfort.

The risk of using hormone therapy to treat menopausal symptoms is relatively low. Over 1 year, if 10,000 women were to take combination hormone therapy, there would be:

  • 7 more heart attacks
  • 8 more strokes
  • 8 more invasive breast cancers
  • 18 more cases of blood clots in the lungs or legs
  • 6 fewer cases of colon or rectal cancer
  • 5 fewer hip fractures
  • Same number of deaths
  • Same total number of cancer cases

compared with a group of 10,000 women not taking hormone therapy.12

The benefits of using hormone therapy to treat menopausal symptoms vary from person to person, and hormone therapy is more successful in treating women with severe complaints.24 Hormone therapy should be used for as short a time as possible, at the lowest dose possible to treat symptoms. Your doctor can help you weigh the risks and benefits of treating your menopausal symptoms with hormone therapy.

Summary of Risks, Benefits, and Side Effects of Hormone Therapy
BenefitsRisksSide Effects
*Adapted with permission from the National Women's Heath Information Center
  • Reduces hot flashes
  • Treats vaginal dryness
  • Slows bone loss
  • Decreases mood swings and depression
  • Blood clots
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Breast cancer
  • Gall bladder disease
  • Bleeding
  • Bloating
  • Breast tenderness or enlargement
  • Headaches
  • Mood changes
  • Nausea

 

Summary of the Findings from the Women's Health Initiative 7.25
Estrogen OnlyEstrogen and Progestin
Increased RiskDecreased RiskNo ChangeIncreased RiskDecreased RiskNo Change
Heart disease
X

X
(in some women)

Stroke

X

X
Heart attack
X
Blood clots (leg, lung)
X
X
Breast cancer
X
X
Colerectal cancer
X
X
All cancers
X
X
Bone fractures
X
X
Death from any cause
X
X

 

Can hormone therapy prevent osteoporosis?

As women get older, their bones thin and become more likely to break. Hormone therapy has been shown to keep a woman’s bones from thinning.26, 27 However, once she stops taking the hormones, the breakdown of bone tissue continues. The risks of taking long-term hormone therapy do not outweigh the benefits of preventing osteoporosis (bone loss). There are other treatments available to prevent bone loss that don’t come with such risks, such as the drugs Fosamax (alendronate) and Evista (raloxifene).26

Can hormone therapy prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?

No. Hormone therapy was once touted as a youth pill that could delay mental signs of aging including memory problems, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease. However, the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study showed that taking hormone therapy may actually increase your risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.28, 29

Next: Taking Hormone Therapy


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