HRT – To Patch Or Not To Patch

I thought about this post for some time, trying to work out how to write it. Every woman’s journey is different from adolescence to menopause. But one fact is universal; if you live long enough you are going to have deal with menopause. Its astonishing how confusing a topic it still is for some women. And the amount of misinformation out there is alarming.

Yes there are some unpleasant aspects in menopause, but the same can be said for menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth. Western society until very recently, seemed to subtly sideline you when you entered middle age in a way that men weren’t. Its as though menopause somehow makes you “less” of a woman. And its not just the fact that you no longer have ovaries that function, or any ovaries at all as is the case with me. I think its an amalgamation of all the changes that come with menopause, emotional as well as physical. And with that in mind, I thought I would offer my experience with hormone replacement therapy or HRT. HRT has come on in leaps and bounds since my mother’s time. Much the same way birth control has. There are numerous options available and for me, the benefits far outweigh the risks.

The jury continues to debate over the efficacy, safety and even need for HRT. You’ll find women (and men, especially the medical profession) on both sides of the fence. One thing that annoys me are the scare stories, especially the ones that suggest HRT is unnatural and will give you cancer. Here are the facts as I understand them;

Estrogen-only HRT may increase the risk of breast cancer but only if used for more than ten years. It may also increase the risk of ovarian cancer (provided you still have ovaries). The other factors that must be looked at include any pre-existing health conditions you may have, and your family history. A history of breast or reproductive cancer  in your family tree may mean HRT isn’t a good idea. If you don’t already know the medical history of the women in your family, you need to find out. All these factors, along with a doctor who is supportive and well informed, are essential to helping you make the right decision.

While the primary form of estrogen, estradiol, is produced in the ovaries, did you know that this isn’t the only area of the body where estrogen is produced and stored? it is also made in the adrenal glands and in (gasp!) fatty tissue. Keep the latter in mind when your feeling pressurised by the Size Zero brigade. For that reason, you may be better off being a bit heavier (not a lot obviously) rather than too thin as you enter menopause. Keep in mind that estrogen has a wide reaching influence on your body; affecting not just reproduction, but also weight, learning and memory and bone health.

I decided early on that I was going to use HRT. I had no desire to go “natural” with menopause. I have little or no luck with herbal remedies for menopause symptoms. There is also a strong family history of bone and joint disease in the female line of my family (osteoporosis and osteo and rheumatoid arthritis), so I wanted to protect my skeleton as much as possible.

I won’t deny that hormone replacement therapy also helps in keeping your skin, hair and nails looking decent. There is definitely a “vanity” factor, if you like. It doesn’t completely block the effects menopause has on your appearance, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Because of on-going gynea problems, I opted for a hysterectomy nearly two years ago and my excellent surgeon prescribed Estradot patches. The tiny patch is worn on the lower abdomen and changed twice a week.

Its waterproof, but doesn’t pull your skin off when you remove one to replace it with a fresh patch. And its easy to travel with.  Just pop as many of the small, almost weightless little packets into your bag and your off. Hot flashes and night sweats are minimal and when I do get them, they are brief and nothing like some of the horror stories I’ve heard from other women.

My memory was getting really bad at one point, something I can’t have with my job as a medical p.a. And I was having mood swings that really upset me. I’ve always been a very even-tempered, quite laid back sort of person and the crying jags and bouts of temper weren’t something I was prepared to let Time deal with. Since starting HRT that has all improved to the point where I feel like me again.

I want to emphasis that HRT is not going to stop the clock or turn back time. I see it as an important part of my self-care, allowing me to get on with enjoying life and being able to work and travel and not have to deal with more symptoms of the ageing process than I absolutely have to. I’m not sure how long I will be on HRT. I’m taking it a year at a time and will eventually reach the point where I will wean off it and stop all together.

I’d love to hear how you are dealing with menopause so please comment and share your experiences!