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July 2005

Menopause & hormones

What is menopause?

Menopause is a normal change in a woman's life when her period stops. That's why some people call menopause "the change of life" or "the change." During menopause a woman's body slowly produces less of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. This often happens between the ages of 45 and 55 years old. A woman has reached menopause when she has not had a period for 12 months in a row.

How do hormones help with menopause?

Reduce hot flashes

Treat vaginal dryness

Slow bone loss

Who should not take hormone therapy for menopause?

Women who...

Think they are pregnant

Have problems with vaginal bleeding

Have had certain kinds of cancers

Have had a stroke or heart attack in the past year

Have had blood clots

Have liver disease

What is hormone therapy for menopause?

Hormone therapy for menopause has also been called hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Lower hormone levels in menopause may lead to hot flashes, vaginal dryness and thin bones. To help with these problems, women are often given estrogen or estrogen with progestin (another hormone). Like all medicines, hormone therapy has risks and benefits. Talk to your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist about hormones. If you decide to use hormones, use them at the lowest dose that helps. Also use them for the shortest time that you need them.

What are the symptoms of menopause?

Every woman's period will stop at menopause. Some women may not have any other symptoms at all. As you near menopause, you may have:

Who needs treatment for symptoms of menopause?

What are the benefits from using hormones for menopause?

Hormone therapy is the most effective FDA approved medicine for relief of hot flashes, night sweats or vaginal dryness.

Hormones may reduce your chances of getting thin, weak bones (osteoporosis) which break easily.

What are the risks of using hormones?

For some women, hormone therapy may increase their chances of getting blood clots, heart attacks, strokes, breast cancer, and gall bladder disease. For a woman with a uterus, estrogen increases her chance of getting endometrial cancer (cancer of the uterine lining). Adding progestin lowers this risk.

Should I use estrogen just to prevent thin bones?

You can, but there are also other medicines and things you can do to help your bones.

Should I use hormone therapy to protect the heart or prevent strokes?

No, do not use hormone therapy to prevent heart attacks or strokes.

Should I use hormone therapy to prevent memory loss or Alzheimer's disease?

No, do not use hormone therapy to prevent memory loss or Alzheimer's disease.

Do hormones protect against aging and wrinkles or increase my sex drive?

Studies have not shown that hormone therapy prevents aging and wrinkles or increases sex drive.

How long should I use hormones for menopause?

You should talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. Again, hormones should be used at the lowest dose that helps and for the shortest time. (For example, check if you still need them every 3-6 months.)

Does it make a difference what form of hormones I use for menopause?

The risks and benefits may be the same for all hormone products for menopause, such as pills, patches, vaginal creams, gels and rings.

Are herbs and other "natural" products useful in treating symptoms of menopause?

At this time, we do not know if herbs or other "natural" products are helpful or safe. Studies are being done to learn about the benefits and risks.

What can I do to improve my health whether I am using hormones or not?

  • Be active and get more exercise
  • Don't smoke
  • Eat right and control your weight
  • Talk with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist, and have regular check ups
    • Discuss bone health; ask if you should take calcium and vitamin D
    • Have your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar checked
    • Have a breast exam and a breast X-ray (mammogram)


To get the facts:

Federal Citizen Information Center
US General Services Administration

National Women's Health Information Center
US Department of Health and Human Services

Food and Drug Administration
US Department of Health and Human Services

National Institutes of Health
US Department of Health and Human Services


Agency for Healthcare Research Quality
US Department of Health and Human Services

This document was developed by FDA and other agencies of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS thanks all of the participating organizations that have assisted in its reproduction and distribution.