Under a haze of controversy for years now, hormone therapy has been given approval by the Canadian Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for use in the treatment of menopause. Rewriting their guidelines for the first time in five years, the experts stated that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is safe and effective for women going through menopause. This is the latest development in one of the most contentious areas of medicine, ever since a landmark study was abruptly halted in 2002.
Four years ago, researchers from the U.S. National Institutes of Health were surprised to discover that women on HRT tended to have higher rates of breast cancer, heart attacks, and strokes. These findings were present over a long-term study called the Women’s Health Initiative. Since then, doctors have been arguing both for and against this type of treatment. Also since then, millions of women everywhere stopped taking the drugs, which were commonly prescribed.
The Canadian researchers wanted to address women’s concerns. Women going through menopause need something to help with its difficult symptoms, which include irregular periods, vaginal changes, hot flashes, decreased fertility, sleep disturbances, night sweats, emotional problems, and mood swings. But after examining the issue, they found that women can safely use the therapy during the time that they are experiencing symptoms. They still don’t recommend HRT for preventing menopausal symptoms, but rather for alleviating them instead.
Notably, they say HRT delivers about the same risk for breast cancer as does drinking two glasses of alcohol. They recommend that HRT is the most effective option for dealing with moderate to severe menopausal symptoms, especially when combined with a healthy lifestyle. There were a few warnings, though: If women want something for vaginal dryness or atrophy, they should try creams instead of HRT drugs. Also, HRT should not be used for the treatment of dementia or heart disease, which sometimes it has been.
Many women are opposed to taking treatments for menopause, considering it a phase of life they have to get through naturally. It is a natural transition, certainly, but it can be very difficult. It runs the gamut from being mildly uncomfortable to utterly unbearable. According to the researchers, women need to know that HRT is safe and available to help them through what’s often a debilitating experience.