As women age, they often experience symptoms that alter various parts of their daily life due to hormonal imbalance caused by menopause. These women often find relief from symptoms like hot flashes, emotional and sleep disturbances, and sexual dysfunction by undertaking hormone replacement therapy to bring their body’s natural chemistry back into balance.
The function of hormones in the body is to act as messengers that travel throughout the bloodstream to the various organs, tissues and cells to alter the chemical and physical processes in all physiological systems. In women, the ovaries help transmit progesterone and estrogen to the rest of the body and play a key role in fertility, menstrual cycles, and the development of typically female traits.
As many women already know, a woman is born with all the eggs she will have for the rest of her life. These rest in the follicles of the ovaries, which decline in function during menopause, causing the ovaries to produce fewer of the regulatory hormones that facilitate a healthy menstruation. A woman is typically able to regulate the balance of progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone, but the body’s control of this ability wanes with age.
These unavoidable changes in a woman’s hormones and the natural depletion of estrogen levels that occurs during menopause can notably affect a woman’s health for years, well after the menopausal onset. In addition to a decline in overall health that the lack of these hormones can cause may be accompanied by uncomfortable symptoms that make it hard for her to maintain her quality of life.
As unique as each woman is, so should be the treatment for these symptoms. Women may experience a range from mild to severe symptoms which is why an increasing number of women are finding relief from these symptoms through the use of hormone replacement therapy. We’ll review why this type of therapy is so effective and why it may even help prevent osteoporosis.
The Roles of Estrogen and Progesterone
Why is estrogen important? What about progesterone?
They are both essential hormones for a woman’s functions. In the female body, the hypothalamus triggers the release of progesterone and estrogen in preparation for the uterus to have menstruation. Progesterone causes the lining of the uterus to become thicker anticipating a pregnancy. If pregnancy does occur, elevated levels of progesterone and estrogen prevent the remaining eggs from maturing.
Aside from regulating the body for reproduction, progesterone, and estrogen manage a woman’s physiology related to her emotional health, breasts, uterus, ovaries, and vagina throughout all the stages of her life. From childhood to puberty, mature adulthood, middle-age, the elder years both hormones keep the body regulated.
It is no wonder that the healthy function of these two important hormones is essential for having the right support a woman needs in all stages of her life. They cannot be too low or too high. Having the right balance for the particular age of a woman is an essential part of her physical health and emotional well-being.
Fortunately, today’s medical advances are giving a lot of hope to women by helping them achieve a healthy hormonal balance at any stage of her life without having to resort to dangerous medications.
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How Do Estrogen Levels Change as Women Age?
Hormones are produced by the endocrine system of your body. It is made up of cells, tissues and organs that work together to produce and maintain healthy hormone levels throughout.
It is natural for a woman to experience changes in estrogen levels beginning between the ages of 45 to 55. This is the time when she will find it increasingly difficult to become pregnant. These estrogen levels decline gradually until they hit a lower level and find a balance to start the elderly phase. Some women, however, can experience this change abruptly, sometimes striking younger, otherwise healthy women.
Although it is key that as these hormonal changes occur, women who are able to seek medically supervised treatment for this condition can often continue enjoying their quality of life, largely without interruption or inconvenience.
What is Menopause?
Menopause is a condition that can be identified as the time when a woman naturally stops menstruating. It can be due to the normal hormonal changes that come with middle age, or it can be induced with surgeries or other events experienced by the reproductive system.
Natural menopause is diagnosed when a woman doesn’t menstruate for at least 12 consecutive months. In the United States, this usually occurs around age of 51, but as all women are a little different, it can sometimes also occur at any time in your 40s or 50s.
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What are the Symptoms of Menopause?
Menopause affects each woman differently. Some may experience hardly any symptoms or have a combination of just about all of them. They can range from mildly annoying to completely debilitating.
In the months or years before this phase sets in, there’s a period called perimenopause, which is the time some women may experience the following symptoms:
This sudden feeling of overbearing warmth usually occurs in the upper body, with more intensity on the chest, neck, and face. It presents with blushed skin at times. You may also experience sweating while you’re having a hot flash.
As your body loses that heat, a chilling effect may follow. When you sleep at night, a hot flash is manifested as night sweats which can disrupt sleep and become very uncomfortable over time.
Also known as “cold flashes” because the body gets a sudden chill. Though not as common in occurrence as hot flashes, this particular symptom is still widely reported in premenopausal women.
As estrogen drops, it affects the hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for regulating temperature. As the hypothalamus becomes overactive, it can send chemical signals to your body telling it is overheating. The body sheds the heat by causing a chill or cold flash. Like hot flashes, these can happen sporadically, including at night often causing sleep disruptions.
Mood Swings and Depression
Fluctuating emotions are a common part of this phase of life as estrogen levels decline.
Women may experience:
- lack of motivation,
- aggressive tendencies,
- difficulty with focus and concentration,
- feelings of sadness,
- rapid changes in mood and
- tension among other feelings.
If these symptoms are not addressed, it can create other complications with consequences like the development of depression or changes in character.
Weight Gain and Sluggish Metabolism
Is weight gain among middle-aged women negligence or inevitability? According to the National Institutes of Health, 65% of women in the United States between the ages of 40 and 65 years old are considered to be obese. Additionally, those over the age of 65 hit the 74% mark. The report continues to state that the incidence of metabolic syndrome after menopause can be somewhere between 31 to 55% depending on genetic factors and the environment. Although not every woman who is overweight can blame their malady on their hormones, the research seems to support that these changes within the body, at the very least, can impact a woman’s weight as they age.
Thin Hair and Dehydrated Skin
The American Academy of Dermatology Association confirms that some hormonal changes in middle-aged women can prevent the skin from retaining water, causing dryness and weak hair follicles which both contribute to thinning hair and loss.
Estrogen also plays an important role stimulating collagen and oils that affect the growth of nails, skin, and hair. Estrogen and progesterone typically help hair grow faster and stay on the hair follicle longer. As these hormones drop, the hair loses that support while at the same time, androgens, the male counterpart, can increase throughout the body and its various systems. One such hormone, DHT, attacks the hair follicles and shrinks them, making them unable to grow new hair.
Changes with the Breasts
Reduced amounts of estrogen and other hormones can make the skin and connective tissue of the breasts less hydrated causing a loss of elasticity. During this decline, fatty tissue begins to replace dense breast tissue, which contributes to the loss of fullness and firmness making them appear stretched and loose. Breasts can also tend to be more susceptible to developing fibroids, cancer, or cysts during this period.
Menstruation Becomes Irregular
Perimenopause is the phase before the official start of menopause. It can last anywhere from a few months to 10 years with the symptoms typically lasting about four years. During this phase, progesterone and estrogen seesaw up and down, from month to month. It affects menstruation by causing missed periods or irregular ones. You may see spotting between periods, shorter or prolonged cycles. You may also experience abnormally heavy bleeding, changes in the color of the blood with a more dark tinge, and/or changes in the texture thick/clumpy or thin/watery.
When your body produces less estrogen, your vaginal walls become thinner, dry, and inflamed – mostly after menopause. It can make intercourse painful and lead to problems within the urinary tract and waste systems. Physicians refer to this condition as genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM). The symptoms may include
- frequent/burning/urgent urination,
- genital itching, incontinence,
- vaginal burning/itching/dryness/discharge,
- UTIs, and
- light bleeding/discomfort after intercourse.
An assistant professor of medicine, Grace Pien, M.D., M.S.C.E. , who works at the Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center, says women should sleep at least seven to eight hours each night. Being able to attain this goal becomes more difficult with the onset of menopause because aside from night sweats and chills, it can cause other sleep disturbances due to lowered estrogen levels. Some of these conditions include sleep apnea and emotional instability. One key indication that your sleep is being affected is that you may find yourself waking up throughout the night or waking up unrested.
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What Are the Benefits of Hormone Replacement Therapy For Menopause?
How is menopause treated for each individual? A lot of that depends on the individual. Thankfully, with the use of precise dosing and medically supervised treatments, these symptoms can be easily addressed through the use of hormone replacement therapy, or HRT. For years, menopausal women have been using hormone replacement therapy, long enough now for many medical professionals to study and conduct clinical studies to demonstrate that it indeed helps women get through this challenging stage of their lives.
Clinical studies confirm the benefits of the therapy for menopausal women and have determined it is an effective therapy that does not produce dangerous side effects. In fact, some studies indicate that HRT was an effective way to support the aging body and prevent or manage many age-related conditions like osteoporosis.
In short, through the use of HRT, many women find relief from menopausal symptoms, feel revitalized, and have a higher sense of overall well-being.
What is Hormone Replacement Therapy?
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a medically supervised treatment used to normalize and stabilize the hormone levels within the body. In the case of therapy for menopause, it seeks to supplement declining levels of hormones (often estrogen and testosterone) in order to return the functions of the body to their normalized state. When women take this medication, they are able to replace lost hormones that the body stops producing during menopausal years, effectively alleviating many of the symptoms associated with the imbalance.
Not only does hormone replacement therapy help relieve menopausal symptoms, but it has also been shown to assist the body in maintaining bone density and strength, thus reducing the risks of fractures and developing osteoporosis. It also helps prevent heart disease and colorectal/bowel cancer.
It is effective for menopausal women because it gives them the boost they need while their bodies are going through a major hormonal change. This support allows a woman’s body to continue to thrive instead of developing weak points that can be the gateway to serious health problems.
What Are the Main Types of Hormone Replacement Therapy?
Hormone replacement therapy can come in a variety of forms including topical oral and injectable form. Although there are pros and cons for each, by far the most effective method of delivering these hormones to the body is through regular treatments of a medically supervised therapy.
In many cases, physicians suggest the lowest dose possible for the least amount of time. This conservative approach allows the body to find relief without causing undesired side effects from long-term or high-dose hormone treatment. It also avoids the mistake of over consuming hormones that could cause an imbalance the other way, which would introduce many new problems for the patient instead of alleviating them.
Common administration methods include pills, vaginal rings, skin patches, gels, or sprays. The best method for you depends on your particular needs, which is why we take so much time and dedicate an entire team to helping you understand and manage your journey back to better health.
Addressing an estrogen imbalance can often alleviate a variety of issues many women suffer before, during and following menopause. Some of these include relief from osteoporosis and other bone-related diseases, relieve pain from intercourse and help restore hydration and relieve irritation within the vagina and reproductive systems.
Physicians commonly combine progesterone therapy with estrogen for the prevention of endometrial cancer. The addition of progesterone with your estrogen therapy has a balancing effect that prevents the growth of the lining of the uterus. However, if you’ve experienced a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus), you may not need to combine progesterone with your estrogen therapy and may be prescribed other therapies instead.
Are You a Good Candidate for Hormone Replacement Therapy?
Like any medical treatment, it’s important to only undertake HRT after discussing the benefits and possible risks with our team of medical experts. Because not all women are good candidates for the therapy, our team will assess your current health and goals and provide expert guidance for managing your symptoms and addressing the underlying causes.
In general, you may want to consider HRT if (you):
- Have severe menopausal symptoms that are decreasing your quality of life.
- Your symptoms include debilitating headaches, major sleep disturbances, painful intercourse, extreme emotional changes, and sweating at night.
- Have genetic predisposition for colon cancer or osteoporosis.
- Are under 40 years old and have an early onset of menopause.
- Are under 45 years old and had ovaries removed (surgical menopause).
- Are under 45 years old with menopause caused by radiation or chemotherapy.
- Have tried other methods for relieving symptoms without success.
Lifestyle Improvements for Successful Hormone Treatment
You may increase the chances of success in taking hormone therapy safely by engaging in a healthy lifestyle that includes plenty of physical activity and quality sleep. Ensuring that you include plenty of nutrient-dense foods in your diet along with enough pure water to keep you hydrated will also enhance your health. Avoiding smoking or drinking alcohol and managing stress are all part of a complete picture of well-being.
Risks Associated with Hormone Replacement Therapy
All women are very unique and react to the therapy differently. Factors such as their health, lifestyle, medical conditions, and genetic history all play a role.
It is precisely because of this that working with a knowledgeable team that has a lot of experience intreating these conditions and symptoms is so important.
When a person tries to manage these symptoms on their own, they risk developing side effects such as:
- Higher probability of developing blood clots.
- Increased chances for having strokes, heart attacks, and other cardiovascular events.
- An increased risk for developing gallbladder disease.
- A higher risk for developing breast cancer.
The risks mentioned above can vary according to the following factors like how old you are at the beginning of therapy, the dosage and whether or not the patient is following the prescribed protocols. Reports have shown a higher risk for women who begin hormone replacement therapy later in their lives, so it’s important to not only monitor a patient’s condition throughout, but also to ensure that their health is progressing towards their desired goals.
This also applies to those that wait to take the therapy at or after the age of 60 years old.Beginning treatment as soon as symptoms begin to appear can be very effective at managing these symptoms and conditions in the long term.
Another consideration is any other medications you may be taking for other conditions as your risks can vary according to the dosage you take and the type of hormones. Because the goal of the therapy is to return the body’s chemistry to normal levels, it’s important for our medial team to know what other substances you may be taking which may interfere or inhibit the effectiveness of the therapy.
One of the most important considerations is your personal and family medical history. These histories provide a comprehensive look at your possible response to treatment, how your body reacts to certain interventions and indicate any familial conditions that may exacerbate your condition with treatment.
With our comprehensive medical exams and analysis, you’ll be able to understand what to expect as far as your risks and benefits. Through the hard work of our team, including your dedicated Wellness Concierge, your health will be continually monitored to ensure your hormone therapy is bringing the balance your body needs. Regular assessment and adjustment is an integral part of this process and helps to ensure the best possible outcomes.
Careful monitoring of the treatment should take place every 3-6 months to ensure maximum effectiveness and safety. Each patient should be cared for with a precisely planned treatment plan that is tailored to their unique profile.
Possible Side Effects of Estrogen Hormone Therapy
Like any medical treatment, there can be some side effects to contend with. These may be compounded if therapy is undertaken alone or without the proper guidance and supervision of a medical professional. Although rare some women who do experience them have reported mild to severe reactions, most commonly:
- Tenderness of the breasts
Mitigation and avoidance of these side effects are yet another reason it’s beneficial to work with a team that will provide comprehensive care. Your doctor will also ensure that all of your hormones are at proper levels and are not interfering with your therapy.
Bloodwork should confirm that hormones including DHEA, cortisol, HGH, estriol, and testosterone are all working properly and are providing your body with the support it needs to overcome menopausal symptoms without much discomfort.
Good News About Hormone Replacement Therapy For Menopausal Women
- As of 2020, most medical experts concur that hormone replacement therapy is one of the best ways to treat the symptoms of menopause.
- The Endocrine Society and American Society for Reproductive Medicine has found hormone replacement therapy to be an effective strategy to treat menopause.
- The National Institute of Health confirms that one of the most effective methods to treat menopausal symptoms is hormone replacement therapy. They also report that it is an effective way to prevent long-standing estrogen deficiency.
Preparing For Your Initial Consultation
Once you determine that hormone replacement therapy is something you want to consider, gather your history to present to your doctor. Include a detailed list of your family’s medical past. Mention all of the medical conditions you’re experiencing now and in the past along with any surgeries you’ve had. Write down all of the medications, herbal supplements, and foods you consume.
Our team will make a complete assessment that includes blood work, which will confirm your hormone levels, nutritional status, and other important factors markers that will give him/her an overall report of your health.
It’s also a good idea, if you haven’t begun, to make a journal of all your symptoms. Notice when they occur, what they are, the intensity, the frequency, and any disturbances that you experience from them.
Although not all women are good candidates for hormone replacement therapy, those who have success with it enjoy a great improvement in their quality of life and future health. There are various ways to deal with menopausal symptoms, but if they are severe and disruptive, it is a good idea to consider replacing your depleted hormone levels.
Start to pay attention to your symptoms and all the changes you are experiencing. Consistently notate, perhaps in a journal all that is happening to you so that you know your exact manifestation and help the physician put the pieces of the puzzle together.
Menopause doesn’t have to be a dreadful part of your life. With the right support, you can get through this phase of your life feeling great and setting yourself up for long-term health well into your elder years.
Our clinic provides women the assistance and support to ensure they always have the tools to experience positive outcomes from treatment. Through a little bit of work, lifestyle changes, supportive nutrition, and tailored hormone replacement therapy, it’s not only possible to overcome the effects of a hormone imbalance, it’s likely you will be able to regain much of the quality of life you enjoyed prior to the onset of these symptoms.
Because we know that the treatment is just the beginning of the healing and not the end of it, we provide comprehensive assistance and support throughout the entire process. Call us today at 305-682-1818 to speak with one of our knowledgeable Wellness Concierges who will help answer any lingering questions and help to get you set up for your first appointment.