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Is hormone replacement therapy right for you?

Laura Owens is a freelance writer who specializes in natural health, mood balancing, psychology, social trends and motherhood. She lives in Orlando, Florida. You can reach her at laao@cfl.rr.com or http://lauraowens.wordpress.com.

HRT: Help or harm?

Flip through the health section of your newspaper and you might see another dire warning about the dangers of hormone replacement therapy. But before you run for the menopausal hills and suffer through another day of hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings and low libido, get the facts. HRT can, in fact, be very safe and, for many women, radically change how they feel -- for the better.

Middle aged woman

Hormone replacement therapy isn't for every woman

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) isn't for everyone, but for some women, the right kind of HRT can mean the difference between a renewed sense of physical, emotional and sexual well-being, and just learning "to live with" feeling rotten. The question is: Should you use HRT and, if so, what kind is right for you?

Finding the right HRT

Dr. Jannet Huang, an endocrinologist and menopause clinician, offers this advice for women who are considering hormone replacement therapy:

"Each individual woman needs to carefully evaluate the pros and cons of hormone therapy in her own particular context, making her best informed decision and taking into account her own symptomatology, risk factors and philosophies. And if she does wish to take hormone therapy, then the preparation with the most efficacy and tolerability should be found for her as an individual, under the guidance and appropriate monitoring of a clinician with expertise in menopausal management. "

Here's how to do just that.

Steps to Decide on Hormone Replacement Therapy

1. Find the right doctor

Even if you have to terminate your relationship with your current doctor, it's important to partner with a physician who has a strong background in managing women's health and who has an open-minded attitude about hormone replacement therapy. If your current doctor only beats the drum of "deal with it" or conventional HRT, reconsider your relationship.

When choosing a physician, whether you're in early, peri or full menopause, or if you have had surgery to remove your ovaries and need HRT, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does your doctor listen to your concerns and symptom descriptions, and seem to want to help you manage/eliminate them?
  • Does your doctor convey an attitude of "learn to live with it"?
  • Is your doctor open to natural/bioidentical hormone replacement?
  • Does your doctor suggest tracking symptoms and reporting any problems?
  • Does your doctor treat you with compassion and respect?

Be comfortable with these answers -- or find another physician. Menopause is not the time in life to "suffer through" symptoms; it's merely a transition into a new kind of well-being.

2. Take the hormone test

Most doctors will suggest measuring your hormone levels with a blood or saliva test before starting HRT. Some physicians who support natural HRT believe saliva testing has distinct advantages. Either way, in conjunction with symptom tracking, both tests offer a useful starting point to determine what hormones to replace (if any), and the level of hormone replacement needed.

3. Track your symptoms

Keep a daily and monthly diary of symptoms to share with your doctor. At least three months is ideal. If you decide on hormone replacement therapy, continue tracking symptoms for at least three months unless, after your initial adjustment period (a couple weeks), your symptoms do not improve or they worsen.

4. Supplement with the lowest amount necessary

When it comes to HRT, more is not better. Hormones are powerful chemicals that need to be administered at the lowest amount necessary to achieve desired results (elimination of or improvement of symptoms). Work closely with your physician to increase or decrease your dose based on your symptoms and post-HRT blood/saliva measurements.

Next page: Types of hormone replacement therapy >>

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