What is hormone replacement therapy?

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) usually refers to the replacement of sex hormones in menopausal women. Women use HRT to help control the symptoms of menopause. Menopause is the stage in a woman’s life when sex hormone levels fall and her menstrual period stops.

Symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, night sweats, sleep problems, vaginal dryness, mood swings, anxiety, decreased sexual desire, fatigue, and headaches. Menopause can also cause thinning bones (osteoporosis).

The two main sex hormones that a woman’s body makes are estrogen and progesterone. Progesterone is primarily produced by the ovaries and, in pregnant women, the placenta. The ovaries also produce estrogen. Estrogen is responsible for the female sexual characteristics. It is also important for many body processes, such as maintaining a healthy heart and bones.

A woman who has had her uterus removed by hysterectomy may receive estrogen alone for HRT. A woman who still has her uterus must receive progesterone in addition to estrogen for HRT. Progesterone signals the uterus to shed its lining similar to a menstrual period. This decreases the risk of uterine cancer.

HRT is only one method of controlling the symptoms of menopause. HRT involves some health risks. You may have other treatment options that involve less risk. Discuss all the treatment options with your doctor or healthcare provider to understand which options are right for you.  

Medical Reviewers: Daphne E. Hemmings, MD, MPH Last Review Date: Jul 12, 2013

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