Hormone Therapy for Women

Woman sitting on exam table talking to doctor.

Hormone therapy (HT) increases the levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone in your body. This can help reduce symptoms of menopause. HT may also help prevent osteoporosis in some women. But HT may increase risk for certain conditions, including blood clots, gallstones, heart disease, and stroke. However, HT may also reduce the risk of heart disease in some women.

How to take hormones

To get the best results, always take your hormones exactly as directed. Hormones can be taken in any of these ways:

  • Pills containing estrogen, and sometimes other hormones, are taken as often as every day. This is the most common form of hormone therapy.

  • A patch, spray, or gel releases estrogen into the bloodstream through the skin. There is also a patch that contains estrogen and progesterone. The patch can be worn on your hip. Most patches are changed once or twice a week.

  • Vaginal ring containing estrogen.

  • Cream used inside the vagina releases estrogen locally. Only a very small amount gets into the bloodstream. For this reason, vaginal creams can treat vaginal atrophy and dryness, but are not used to treat hot flashes. The creams do not significantly increase your risk for heart attack or stroke. However, if used more than twice a week in other than very small doses, estrogen does get into the bloodstream in significant amounts. This may affect the uterus if present.

  • Prolonged exposure of estrogen in the blood without the use of a progestin increases the risk of cancer of the uterus.

Follow up visits

Have regular visits with a healthcare provider. These visits are a way to fine-tune your therapy. You can also be checked for any problems that might require you to stop HT.

Call your healthcare provider

If you have any of the following symptoms, call your healthcare provider:

  • Unexpected vaginal bleeding

  • A breast lump, or breast tenderness that doesn’t go away

  • Severe headaches

  • Aching muscles in your back or legs

  • Sudden pain in your legs or chest

  • Shortness of breath