During the menopause, a woman’s body goes through a lot of changes. Eggs are no longer released from the ovaries every month due to a drop in oestrogen levels.
This oestrogen reduction is the cause of the symptoms that are associated with menopause, the most common ones being:
● Hot flushes
● Night sweats
● Vaginal dryness
● Low mood, increased anxiety or depression
● Mood swings
● Reduced sex drive
● Problems with memory or concentration
The oestrogen hormone is responsible for keeping your vagina lubricated. It assists in the production of an elastic fluid that allows the vagina to clean itself and helps to prevent vaginal infections. As your body goes through the menopause and your oestrogen levels reduce, your body may produce less of this fluid, which causes vaginal dryness. Vaginal dryness can cause pain during sex and can make everyday activities, such as exercising, uncomfortable. Luckily, this vaginal dryness could be treated using hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This treatment involves replacing some of the oestrogen that your body is no longer replacing. We’ve explained more about what HRT involves in the following section.
What is HRT?
HRT is a way of increasing your natural oestrogen levels to help reduce the symptoms of the menopause. It can also help to prevent osteoporosis (weakening of the bones), which is quite a common condition in women as they get older.
There are many different methods for improving the amount of oestrogen in your body, and these can include therapy, tablets, patches and vaginal creams. It’s thought that vaginal creams and tablets that are inserted directly into the vagina, otherwise
known as pessaries, are the most effective for reducing vaginal dryness.
Most women are able to start HRT, however you should consult your doctor about your options. The NHS advise that HRT might not be suitable if you have a history of breast, ovarian or womb cancer, have a history of blood clots or have untreated high blood
pressure. Some types of HRT could increase your risk of breast cancer, so you should speak to a doctor and ensure that HRT is the right route for you.
Alternatively, you could try changing your diet. Some foods are rich in oestrogen and, when eaten every day, could reduce your menopause symptoms. These foods include flax seeds, soy beans, dried fruits, sesame seeds, garlic and peaches.
How long does HRT take to work?
It could take a few weeks to a few months before you notice any benefits of HRT, so you will need to be patient and give the treatment time to work before giving up. It will gradually increase the levels of oestrogen in your body instead of introducing
it in high amounts very quickly.
You may also find that it takes a long time for your body to adjust to the hormones. You might experience some side effects, such as sore breasts, nausea and leg cramps or pains. Most side effects should disappear within 6 to 8 weeks. If they don’t, consult your doctor for further advice.
Can HRT patches cause Thrush?
Treatments of any kind usually come with side effects and HRT isn’t any different. Thrush, a kind of yeast infection, could be caused by HRT; however, it may not just be the patches that are the cause. No matter what HRT treatment you’re on, you could be at more risk of contracting yeast infections. However, it’s also worth noting that vaginal dryness could make you more prone to getting Thrush too.
Some women who use oestrogen patches have previously reported skin irritation where the patch touches the skin. It’s advised that you change the position of the patch each time you put a new one on. The patch should never be applied near your breasts. If you find the patch is really irritating the skin, you could check the strength and consult your doctor about trying one with a lower dosage.
What are the benefits of HRT?
While there may be some risks associated with taking HRT, there are lots of benefits that could alleviate your menopause symptoms.
You may find that you sleep better and that general muscle aches and pains are reduced. Your mood could improve, as well as anxiety and depression, and hot flushes could become less regular. Vaginal dryness could improve and, in some cases, disappear
altogether. This could help to make sex less painful and uncomfortable.
As you get older and your oestrogen levels decrease, your bone density may weaken too. HRT can increase your bone density and help to prevent osteoporotic fractures.