HRT Risks and Benefits,
Hormone Therapy Side Effects

HRT risks run high. Most women are confused and scared concerning hormone replacement therapy issues and imbalances, and with good reason. What are HRT side effects and what has been proven?

HRT includes the use of chemically modified estrogen and progesterone, better known as its synthetic form, progestin. It is composed of estrogenic compounds derived from the urine of pregnant mares. For decades HRT was touted as a drug that could preserve eternal youth. In the 1970s studies were underway to try to prove that it could provide cardio-vascular benefits to menopausal women.

hrt risks

HRT was said to help with:

  • Relief of symptoms
  • Prevention of memory loss
  • Heart health
  • Bone production
  • Growth and repair

The Women’s Health Initiative program (WHI) was a study conducted on 16,608 women ages 50 to 79, who had not had a hysterectomy. They were randomly assigned to take either Prempro or a look-alike placebo. The government-sponsored program abruptly halted its study on estrogen plus progestin on July 9, 2002. This was three years early because of an increased risk of breast cancer in women taking these hormones. Analysis of the study also revealed that heart attack risk began increasing in the progestin group early in the study.

Results of Women’s Health Initiative Program
Women taking Prempro®

  • Had double the rate of blood clots
  • 26 % increase in breast cancer
  • 41 % increase in strokes
  • 29 % increase in heart attacks
  • 22 % increase in cardiovascular disease

The results also showed no clear benefits for those taking estrogen plus progestin on any of the quality of life measures. There were no significant improvements on perceptions of general health, energy, social functioning, mental health, depression, or sexual satisfaction.

There were some positive findings

  • A decrease in colorectal cancer 37%
  • A decrease in fracture rate of the hip of 33%
  • A decrease in total fracture rate of 24%

Another study done by the National Cancer Institute which came out on the same day, showed that women taking estrogen-only hormone replacement for over 10 years doubled their risk of ovarian cancer.

The estrogen alone study done by the WHI was stopped 1 year early in 2004 due to the findings of increased stroke and blood clots. 

A more recent study of HRT risks

A follow up on the same women 11 years later was published in October 2010 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This study found that the women who took Prempro were twice as likely to die from breast cancer as women who took a placebo. They also had a higher chance of getting aggressive forms of breast cancer.

It is estimated that one-half of women stop their synthetic hormone replacement therapy after one year because they are unable to tolerate the side effects.

Possible HRT side effects

  • Pain in breasts
  • Bloating and fluid retention
  • Nausea
  • Depression and other mood swings
  • Weight gain
  • Spotting or monthly bleeding

Most Doctors are now advising their patients that if they do choose HRT, that they should use it for as short a period of time as possible.

The choice is up to you, however HRT risks run high, and you may find other alternatives in natural remedies for menopause.