When menopause sets in, women need help keeping their bones strong. This is because our bodies stop producing estrogen, leaving bones vulnerable to thinning, osteoporosis and fractures. To combat the problem, doctors sometimes prescribe a combination of estrogen and progestin, or hormone replacement therapy. But there are some major risks involved in taking HRT, and the decision to start the treatment should always be a measured one.
HRT’s negative effects were discovered through the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), an ongoing study established to examine women’s health issues. In 2002, it announced that the HRT clinical trial was cut off after three years because it resulted in a small, but significant increase in breast cancer. The study also showed increased risk of blood clots, heart disease, ovarian cancer, and dementia. Depending on your age and medical history, the risks for different conditions vary. Older women see an increased risk of heart disease, while all women on HRT suffer an increased risk for strokes.
It’s possible that smaller doses of HRT may yield safer results. In fact, the American Cancer society recently found a potential two-year “safe period” for HRT. The study confirmed that the treatment significantly increases breast cancer risk for women who take it anywhere from three to five years. But the study also showed no increased risk for women who took HRT for less than two years. That presents a possible time frame when it may be safely recommended to combat many of the problems associated with menopause, from hot flashes to osteoporosis.
In the longer term, HRT is still associated with minor to serious health risks. But, HRT remains the most effective way to deal with post-menopausal symptoms and doctors continue to recommend HRT for women at high risk for osteoporosis.