What’s Hormone Replacement Therapy & Why Should Women Know About It?

Feb 5, 2017 at 4:51 p.m. ET
Image: IAN HOOTON/Getty Images

Hormone replacement therapy, or hormone therapy, has been around since the 1940s.

Its initial intent was to decrease symptoms of menopause in women. However, by the 1960s, it was also being prescribed to transgender patients, such as trans actress and model April Ashley. Keep reading to learn more about the basic benefits, risks and uses of HRT.

More: 9 Things Every Menopausal Woman Will Definitely Have on Hand

What is HRT?

Hormone replacement therapy is defined as “medications containing female hormones,” such as estrogen and progesterone (or progestin, which is similar to progesterone). HRT can also include anti-androgens, which can reduce unwanted hair growth. However, HRT can also can also be medications containing male hormones (like testosterone) for female-to-male transitions.

Who uses HRT and why?

HRT, also known as just hormone therapy, is used to treat menopause in cisgender women and aid transgender people in their transition.

For menopausal women, HRT can help treat symptoms such as “hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and extreme mood fluctuations,” as well as decrease risk for osteoporosis and weakened bones.

For trans women, HRT introduces female hormones to the body and gives the body a more traditionally feminine appearance. HRT in trans women can decrease muscle mass and redistribute fat to create a softer, curvier figure and reduce growth of body and facial hair.

For trans men, increased testosterone encourages muscle growth, broadens shoulders, increases facial hair, shrinks breasts and stops menstruation.

More: Too Young for Hot Flashes? It Could Be Perimenopause

Do all trans people and menopausal women use HRT?

Nope! HRT is actually only recommended to treat very specific cases of menopause and can be dangerous if taken otherwise.

Not all trans people actually want to transition; some are perfectly content with their bodies as they are and choose not to subscribe to traditional physical standards of gender. Transness is still completely valid without any physical and hormonal changes.

Some trans people simply cannot afford hormone therapy or are otherwise restricted from taking it due to being underage. Some trans people are unable to come out as trans for fear for their safety, and thus do not start a physical transition.

What are the risks of HRT?

While HRT is considered safe in some circumstances, it can have some pretty severe side effects, like most medications.

Side effects for menopausal women include stroke, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, pulmonary embolism and deep-vein thrombosis (blood clots within the veins). Side effects for trans women are similar, with the addition of increased risk of liver damage. Increased testosterone in trans men can be as mild as slight allergic reactions or as severe as stroke.

It is important to remember that these side effects can be prevented and/or maintained by a medical professional and shouldn't be a deal-breaker.

More: These Two Life Events Could Predict Early Menopause

HRT is not a suitable option for all menopausal and/or trans people, but it can definitely be helpful or even life-changing for those who need it. If you are interested in taking HRT, either to help treat menopause or to transition, consult a medical professional. It can be very damaging to take more HRT than prescribed to speed up one’s transition, and it is a process that must be closely monitored by both the patient and their doctor. HRT pills are also sometimes sold illicitly on the internet for a cheaper price than they would be at most offices and clinics. This is an incredibly dangerous practice and should be avoided at all costs.

To find out where you can safely procure HRT, this is a great resource. There are also many personal blogs and videos online about real people’s experiences with HRT, including resources here and here.

By Ariel Wodarcyk

Originally published on HelloFlo.