March 29, 2022
Your Guide To Hormone Therapy For Women
In recent years, hormone therapy for women has become a hot topic of discussion. While heavily associated with treating menopause, hormone therapy is also used to treat fertility issues or to help individuals undergoing gender transitions.
Hormone therapy is very safe and can be highly effective when working with a qualified practitioner. If you are interested in hormone therapy for women, we’ll provide a brief guide below going over the basics.
Why Get Hormone Therapy?
When it comes to hormone therapy for women specifically, it is usually used to treat menopause, boost fertility, or as part of a gender transition. In rare cases (which we’ll touch on briefly) hormone therapy is used to potentially reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.
Hormone therapy can often help alleviate common symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, low libido, night sweats, and sleep problems. Hormone replacement therapy can be used on women undergoing menopause naturally, or those who are experiencing early menopause because of medical issues or due to a hysterectomy.
Feminizing Hormone Therapy
Feminizing hormone therapy induces the physical changes cisgender women experience during puberty. Those who were assigned male at birth undergoing a gender transition may seek feminizing hormone therapy to help their gender identity match their secondary sex characteristics.
Women who have been trying to conceive for a year or more may need to evaluate their hormone levels. In some cases, hormone replacement therapy can help. Certain drugs release the hormones responsible for the stimulation and growth of egg-containing ovarian follicles. This increases the likelihood of conception each month.
If you have an increased risk of breast cancer, you might want to talk to your doctor about whether hormone therapy may be beneficial to you. One randomized clinical trial found that the drug tamoxifen, which blocks the effects of estrogen, can reduce the risk of developing invasive breast cancer by 50% if used for five years. While more research is needed, your doctor may recommend hormone therapy if you are at a particularly high risk for breast cancer.
The above reasons are just the most common reasons that women seek hormone therapy. In recent years, hormone therapy has been used to help with sports injury, improve immunity, and even to slow the effects of aging.
How Does Hormone Therapy Work?
When it comes to female hormone therapy, how it works really depends on what you’re trying. We’ll touch on some basics below.
For menopause, either estrogen only or a combination of estrogen and progesterone are used. If you have not had your uterus removed, progesterone will typically be prescribed alongside estrogen. When not balanced out by progesterone, estrogen can stimulate growth in the lining of the uterus, which increases your risk of endometrial cancer.
For estrogen-specific treatments, there are two main types of female hormone therapy: systemic hormone therapy and low-dose vaginal products. Systemic estrogen can be administered via pill, skin patch, ring, gel, cream and even a spray form. Low-dose products come in cream, tablet, or ring form and are designed to minimize the amount of estrogen absorbed by the body. Low-dose products are mainly used to treat specific symptoms of menopause such as urinary incontinence and vaginal dryness.
If your doctor thinks hormone therapy may help increase your fertility, they may prescribe one of several different medications.
Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) both help trigger ovulation and can even help you release more than one egg per cycle. Clomiphene citrate is a drug taken by mouth that stimulates ovulation by causing the pituitary gland to release more FSH and LH. For women under 39 who don’t have underlying issues like PCOS, this is usually the go-to treatment.
For more severe fertility issues, your doctor may recommend gonadotropins, injected treatments that stimulate the ovaries.
Feminizing Hormone Therapy
For feminizing hormone therapy, most patients take diuretic spironolactone to block the production of male sex hormones. After four to six weeks, you will begin taking estrogen. As with treatment for menopause, this can come in many forms such as pills, creams, gels, or sprays.
Where you go from there truly depends on your personal needs. Your doctor will work with you one-on-one to determine the hormone therapy that would most benefit you. Some patients end up taking progesterone as well to improve breast development.
Are There Risks Associated With Hormone Therapy?
When working with a qualified professional, hormone therapy is generally very safe. Your practitioner should go over your medical history to ensure you’re a good candidate for hormone therapy and will work with you to mitigate your chance of complications.
While breast cancer is typically associated with hormone therapy, there is little to no increase in your risk for breast cancer with estrogen-only therapy. Combined hormone therapy may have a minor impact on your risk of developing breast cancer, but this is contingent on a variety of factors. Regular breast cancer screenings are important while you’re undergoing hormone therapy.
Hormone therapy can also increase your risk for blood clots. If you’re over 60, it may increase your risk for cardiovascular disease.
For infertility treatments, hormone therapy may increase your risk for pregnancy with multiples, which results in a heightened risk of complications like premature labor and low birth weight.
Female Hormone Therapy: The Bottom Line
Female hormone therapy can help alleviate symptoms of menopause, help with gender transitions, and treat infertility. Everyone’s path will be different and a qualified practitioner can help determine the right treatment path for you.
Interested in hormone replacement therapy? Book a consultation with CORR today to get started on your path to health.