A female hormone primarily produced by the ovaries, estrogen is often equated with femininity and reproduction. Estrogen is chiefly responsible for menstruation, but it also serves numerous other functions. Any change in estrogen levels can have serious consequences for female health. Keep reading to learn more about estrogen replacement therapy.
What Is Estrogen Replacement Therapy?
Estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) is the introduction of external estrogen into a woman's body. Though most often recommended for women who have undergone a hysterectomy, it is also beneficial for women who experience estrogen deficiency during menopause. And it can provide relief from symptoms such as headaches, hot flashes, and mood swings. Estrogen is prescribed as a pill, vaginal cream, gel, ring, insert, implant, shot, or patch.
Estrogen is typically combined with progesterone to create a compound hormone replacement therapy. This is known as conjugated estrogen.
Other types of estrogen replacement therapy include natural and synthetic options:
- Natural estrogen replacement therapy. This derives its estrogen from “natural” sources, most frequently from the urine of pregnant mares, which is almost identical in chemical structure to a human female's estrogen.
- Synthetic estrogen replacement therapy. This is comprised of estrogen-like substances created in a laboratory.
Side Effects of Estrogen Replacement Therapy
A landmark study by the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) found that introducing foreign hormones into a woman's body poses a risk of side effects and health conditions. These vary in duration and intensity, ranging from mild headaches to more severe conditions such as breast cancer and stroke.
Another report, discussed in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that estrogen replacement therapy reduced the chance of heart disease, further claiming that this reduction outweighed the risk of breast cancer.
Estrogen is available in many different forms, including:
- Pill or tablet
- Nasal spray
- Skin patch
- Skin gel
- Vaginal cream or tablet
- Vaginal ring
Now that estrogen replacement therapy has been explained, keep reading to understand the side effects of estrogen replacement therapy.