Estrogen is any of a group of hormones, signaling molecules important for normal sexual and reproductive development in women. The primary source of these hormones is a woman's ovaries, though the adrenal glands and fat cells also make small amounts.
Estrogen regulates the menstrual cycle, but it also affects the urinary tract, bone density, breasts, skin and hair, pelvic muscles, and organ systems including the musculoskeletal system, cardiovascular system, and brain.
In short, estrogen is a workhorse, keeping your body functioning at peak efficiency.
Then comes menopause, marking the end of a woman’s reproductive life. It’s characterized by a steep drop in estrogen and a related hormone, progesterone. Not surprisingly, this drop produces many unpleasant effects.
One way to get around the problem is through hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to restore normal levels.
Board-certified OB/GYN Dr. Hany H Ahmed in Houston, Texas, understands how uncomfortable menopause can be for his patients. That’s why he offers HRT to help restore the balance of hormones and let you go back to living your life. Here, he details the many benefits of HRT.
Perimenopause, menopause, and all they entail
Though we often talk about menopause as a distinct episode in a woman’s life, the truth is it’s preceded by a years-long period called perimenopause, when you experience the symptoms of lower hormone levels.
Perimenopause can start as early as your 30s or 40s, with menopause — the point at which you haven’t had a period for 12 months — arriving at an average age of 51 in the United States.
During perimenopause, you may experience any or all of these symptoms:
- Irregular or more frequent periods
- Vaginal dryness
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Sleep disturbances
- Mood changes
- Weight gain and slowed metabolism
- Thinning hair and dry skin
- Loss of breast fullness
Skipping periods during perimenopause is expected. Often, your period skips a month and then returns, or skips several months and then starts monthly again for a few months.
Despite irregular periods, however, pregnancy is possible; if you don’t want to get pregnant, use contraception.
The many benefits of hormone replacement therapy
There are two basic types of HRT:
Systemic hormone therapy
Systemic hormone therapy delivers relatively high doses of estrogen throughout the entire body, influencing all your systems. It may be administered by pill, patch, gel, ring, inserted pellet, creams, and sprays, and it helps reduce most common perimenopausal symptoms.
Bioidentical hormone therapy (BHRT) is a form of systemic therapy. It uses a plant-based version of the estrogen produced in the body and comes in the same delivery systems.
Systemic HRT increases your risk of developing breast cancer and heart disease. That’s why doctors generally prescribe HRT for the shortest possible period.
Low-dose hormone therapy
Low-dose products are used topically in the vagina, and they come in creams, tablets, or rings. Your body only absorbs low amounts of estrogen, decreasing the risks associated with high-dose HRT treatments.
On the flip side, these products only treat the vaginal and urinary symptoms of menopause, such as dryness, laxity, and stress incontinence.
HRT therapy can help:
- Decrease night sweats and hot flashes
- Give you better sleep
- Ease vaginal dryness, itching, and laxity
- Decrease painful intercourse
And because HRT restores estrogen to all the systems that benefit from its action, it may also decrease your chances of developing certain health conditions. HRT can:
- Prevent osteoporosis (thinning bones) and related fractures
- Lower your chances of developing dementia
- Lower your chances of developing diabetes
- Lower your risk of developing colon cancer
- Reduce joint pain
- Lower the death rate for women in their 50s
Although an increased risk of heart disease is one of the side effects of systemic HRT, it can, in some women, actually decrease the risk.
If you’ve reached the age where perimenopausal symptoms are creeping in, you don’t have to endure it. Schedule an evaluation with Dr. Ahmed to determine if hormone replacement therapy is right for you. Give the office a call at 713-489-3348, or schedule online.