Menopause Awareness Month: Benefits & Risks Of HRT

Women's Health

The benefits of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) usually outweigh the risks. Recent evidence says that the risks of serious side effects from HRT are very low.

Older studies found potential risks of HRT, and made many people reluctant to take or prescribe it. But this view is now seen as out of date because it does not take account of the benefits as well as the risks.

The benefits and risks of taking HRT depend on your age, your menopause symptoms and any risk factors you have.

If you're under 60 years old, have menopause symptoms, and are not at high risk of breast cancer or blood clots, the benefits of HRT are likely to outweigh the risks. Talk to a GP, who will help you decide.

Benefits of HRT

Relieving menopause symptoms

The main benefit of HRT is that it's effective at relieving most perimenopause and menopause symptoms, such as:

  • hot flushes
  • night sweats
  • sleep problems caused by menopause
  • anxiety and low mood caused by menopause
  • vaginal dryness

You should find that your symptoms improve after a few days or weeks of taking HRT.

Preventing osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is thinning of the bones, which makes you more likely to have a fracture. It's common after the menopause because your level of oestrogen falls. Oestrogen is needed for healthy bones.

HRT helps to prevent osteoporosis by increasing your level of oestrogen. It's particularly important to take HRT to help prevent osteoporosis if your periods stop before the age of 45 (early menopause).

Maintaining muscle strength

It's common to lose muscle strength as you reach menopause. HRT can improve this and help your muscles stay strong. It's also important to exercise to keep your muscles strong.

Risks of HRT

The risks of any serious side effects are usually very low, and depend on the type of HRT you take, how long you take it and your own health risks.

Breast cancer

HRT can slightly increase the risk of breast cancer. If you've had breast cancer you'll usually be advised not to take HRT. The increased risk is low: there are around 5 extra cases of breast cancer in every 1,000 women who take combined HRT for 5 years.

The risk increases the longer you take it, and the older you are. It falls again after you stop taking it. There is little or no increase in the risk of breast cancer from oestrogen-only HRT, which you can take if you've had a hysterectomy to remove your womb.

You can reduce the risk of breast cancer by not taking HRT for longer than you need it to control your symptoms. There are also lifestyle changes that can reduce the risk of breast cancer.

Blood clots

HRT tablets can increase the risk of blood clots, but the risk is still very low. HRT patches, sprays and gels do not increase the risk of blood clots. This is because oestrogen is safer when it's absorbed into your body through your skin.

If you're at risk of blood clots you'll usually be advised to use HRT patches, spray or gel rather than tablets.

Stroke

HRT tablets (but not patches, gel or spray) slightly increase the risk of stroke. But the risk is still very low, particularly if you're under 60 years old.

Research into HRT and other conditions

Research has shown that taking HRT has little or no effect on the risk of getting coronary heart disease. More research is being done to find out how taking HRT affects some other conditions, such as dementia and diabetes. Any increased risk or benefit is likely to be small.

It's not known whether HRT reduces the risk of dementia. HRT does not increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Some recent studies have suggested that it may even slightly reduce the risk.

Women's Health Useful Resources

This Teachers' Maternity Leave Scheme has been updated to reflect the rules concerning...
EA is committed to ensuring that all individuals are treated fairly and with dignity and...
The Menopause Project is an education and research project between Informing Choices NI...
We all have good and bad days but what and when we eat can influence our mood, energy,...
There are a number of health campaigns throughout the year to raise awareness of...
Around one in five women will experience a mental health issue during pregnancy or within...
Cancer Focus NI, Keeping Well vans are mobile drop-in units which bring health checks,...
This includes: Raising awareness of depression and Aware NI services at a wide range of...
We are delighted to provide this FREE digital toolkit. Designed in partnership with the...
Affected by breast cancer? Join this group to share experiences and ask questions to...
Cancer Focus NI can provide a wide range of presentations to meet the needs of your...
Sometimes when faced with an unplanned or crisis pregnancy it is difficult to discuss it...
This programme is a six week training programme for groups of adults and focuses on...
Guided meditations
Learn to manage negative thoughts and look at problems differently
Food diary, exercise tracker and diet coach
Support hub for mothers
Track your treatment and wellbeing
Pregnancy and guidance for after birth
Active 10 is a free and easy to use walking app that tracks your walking and shows you...
It’s an easy to follow programme known the world over, and perfect for those new to...
Guided meditations
Handle stress and anxiety on the go
Support for breast cancer
Your Mind Plan offers practical ideas and advice to help you boost and maintain your mental wellbeing. Answer the quick 5-question quiz and the Every Mind Matters widget will give you 5 tailored actions to help you feel more in control, improve your sleep, deal with stress and anxiety, and boost your mood – as well as the option to easily swap any actions and to save the whole plan via email.
This short test will help you understand how heavy your periods are, and point you in the right direction for treatment options.

Women's Health Articles & Videos

Women's Health Helplines & Web Chats

Informing Choices NI - Helpline
Royal Osteoporosis Society - Helpline
Macmillan - Forum
Macmillan - Ask an expert
Women's Aid - Forum
Association for Post-Natal Illness Helpline
Women's Aid - Domestic abuse helpline