Understanding hormones

Side Effects of HRT

HRT is used to introduce outside hormones into the body.Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is used to introduce outside hormones into the body when natural production wanes. This condition, known as hormonal imbalance, affects many women throughout their lives, pushing them to use one of the types of hormone replacement therapy available.

In the following section, women will be able to find information about the most relevant research on hormone replacement therapy, the most common and uncommon side effects of HRT, and other conditions related to its use.

About Side Effects of HRT

Until 2002, HRT was the most popular and convenient way to treat menopausal symptoms and other hormone imbalances. That year, however, a landmark study by the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) found that introducing foreign hormones into a woman’s body carries a certain degree of risks and can cause many side effects.

Side effects of HRTPrior to 2002, little was known about these possible side effects and the dangers of HRT. However, this large study showed a connection between HRT usage and breast cancer, heart attacks, and stroke. The study followed more than 16,000 women over five years. About 50% of the women were given a placebo and 50% were given a combination of progestin and estrogen HRT. The result showed a statistically significant association with breast cancer, heart disease, and strokes in the women who took HRT. Therefore, it has been recommended that women who decide to use HRT do so for only a short time and at the lowest possible dosage in order to reduce the risks associated with this treatment.

Common Side Effects of HRT

Possible side effects of HRT include:

Common HRT side effects

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Cramped or bloated stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Changes in weight and appetite
  • Altered sex life
  • Anxiety
  • Acne
  • Fluid retention resulting in swollen hands and feet
  • Irregular periods
  • Breast tenderness, enlargement, or discharge
  • Eye irritation
  • Discolored skin patches

Other less common but potentially more upsetting side effects are loss of appetite or extreme fatigue. Additionally, there are certain contraindications that make the use of HRT dangerous for women.

Uncommon Side Effects of HRT

There are also other more severe side effects that can result from HRT. However, these are rare and affect only a very small percentage of women. They include:

Uncommon HRT Side Effects
  • Double vision
  • Extreme abdominal pain
  • Jaundice
  • Depression
  • Unexplained vaginal bleeding
  • Lack of appetite
  • Irritated skin
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Fever
  • Discolored urine or stool

Side Effects of Prolonged HRT Use

If used for prolonged periods of time, HRT increases the risk of serious adverse effects such as:

Side Effects of Prolonged HRT Use
  • Breast cancer
  • Stroke
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Uterine cancer
  • Blood clotting
  • Gallstones
  • Increased blood pressure

HRT and Other Conditions

With regard to other risks associated with HRT, this treatment has been known to worsen existing conditions, including:

HRT and Other Conditions
  • Undiagnosed vaginal bleeding
  • Liver disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Venous thrombosis
  • Headaches
  • History of breast cancer
  • History of uterine fibroids
  • Active gallbladder disease

Now that the side effects of HRT have been explained, women might want to explore less risky possibilities to treat hormonal imbalance.  Keep reading to learn about natural hormone replacement therapy.

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Is HRT a Safe Treatment for Menopause?

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Alternatives to Hormone Replacement Therapy: Three Approaches

It is recommended to begin with the least aggressive approach and move to the next level of treatment only if necessary.

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Learn more: Alternatives to Hormone Replacement Therapy