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Definition of HRT (hormone replacement therapy)

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

HRT (hormone replacement therapy): The combination therapy of estrogen plus a progestogen. Formerly, known as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and now known as hormone therapy (HT). Estrogen therapy (ET) is used to treat the symptoms of  menopause. It reduces or stops the short-term changes of menopause such as hot flashes, disturbed  sleep, and vaginal dryness. Estrogen therapy can prevent osteoporosis, a consequence of lowered estrogen levels. Vaginal estrogen therapy products help with vaginal dryness, more severe vaginal changes, and bladder effects but, since very little vaginal estrogen enters the circulation, it may not help with hot flashes or prevent osteoporosis.  The use of unopposed estrogen therapy (ET alone) is associated with an increase in the risk of endometrial cancer (cancer of the lining of the uterus). However, by taking the hormone progestogen along with estrogen, the risk of endometrial cancer is reduced substantially. Progestogen protects the uterus by keeping the lining of the wall of the uterus (endometrium) from thickening (an effect caused by estrogen). Hormone therapy may be associated with certain health risks. Specifically, postmenopausal women taking combination estrogen-progestin have a small but definite increased risk for developing heart diseasebreast cancerstroke, and blood clots when compared with women not taking hormone therapy. The risks for women taking estrogen therapy alone without progesterone include an increased risk for stroke and blood clots. While long-term hormone therapy is no longer recommended, hormone therapy may still play a role in the treatment of severe menopausal symptoms, particularly in younger women. The healthcare provider can help to weigh the risks and benefits of estrogen therapy or hormone therapy on a case-by-case basis.

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Reviewed on 12/31/2018

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