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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.
Menopausal hormone therapy (MHT)
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.
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
- 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 on our Menopause symptom relief and treatments page 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 menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) if you:
- 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
- Have heart disease
If you choose MHT, experts recommend that you:
- Use it at the lowest dose that helps
- Use it for the shortest time needed
MHT can cause side effects. Call your doctor if you develop any of these problems:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Breast tenderness or swelling
- Mood changes
Explore other publications and websites
Bio-Identicals: Sorting Myths from Facts — This brochure alerts consumers and health care professionals to false and misleading claims of bio-identical hormone replacement therapies.
Bioidentical Hormone Therapy (Copyright © The North American Menopause Society) — This online publication briefly explains what bioidentical hormones are and how they are made. It also includes information on hormone testing.
Facts About Menopausal Hormone Therapy — This brochure summarizes the risks and benefits of menopausal hormone therapy. It is designed to provide patients with information to help them communicate more effectively with their doctor or nurse and determine the best course of treatment on an individual basis.
Hormone Therapy (Copyright ©American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) — This pamphlet gives an overview of hormone replacement therapy. It also discusses the possible problems of using this treatment and other options you may consider.
Hormone Therapy for Menopausal Symptoms: The First Few Years (Copyright © The Hormone Foundation) — This publication explains menopausal hormone therapy. It discusses recent research and treatment alternatives for menopause symptoms. It also includes a list of questions to ask your doctor.
Hormone Therapy: Is It Right for You? (Copyright © Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) — This online publication lists the advantages and disadvantages of hormone therapy. It also points out certain groups of women who are at a greater risk when using this type of treatment.
Hormones and Menopause — This easy-to-read publication presents information and guidelines for women who are experiencing troubling menopausal symptoms.
Menopausal Hormone Replacement Therapy Use and Cancer — This publication discusses the benefits and risks of using menopausal hormone therapy and how its use affects breast cancer risk and survival.
Menopausal Hormone Therapy Information — New findings from the Women's Health Initiative and other studies offer important information about the risks and benefits of long-term menopausal hormone therapy. The links on this website point to information resources, including the most current from the NIH, on both long-term and short-term hormone use, and other concerns related to women's health during and after menopause.
Menopause & Hormones — This fact sheet explains the benefits and risks of treating the symptoms of menopause with hormone therapy. It also explains the Food and Drug Administration's recommendations for menopausal hormone therapy.
Questions and Answers About the WHI Postmenopausal Hormone Therapy Trials — If you are considering hormone therapy, this resource describes Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) studies dealing with estrogen-alone and estrogen-plus-progestin therapy. It also links to other publications that offer more information.
Connect with other organizations
Administration on Aging, HHS
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
American Society for Reproductive Medicine
Hormone Foundation, The
National Institute on Aging, NIH, HHS
The North American Menopause Society (NAMS)
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Content last updated September 29, 2010.
Resources last updated September 29, 2010.
A federal government website managed by the Office on Women's Health in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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