Busting the HRT myths…

When it comes to HRT, it can be hard to separate the facts from the fiction. And with so much conflicting information, it’s no wonder that women are becoming increasingly confused.

So here are common myths about HRT, along with the actual facts.

Hand with marker writing the word Facts Myths

You have to wait for your symptoms to be really bad or even unbearable before your doctor can give you HRT.

FALSE

Many women delay going to their doctor and asking for treatment as they feel that they are wasting their doctor’s time and should wait until their symptoms are really bad. This is not the case as HRT will help even if you have mild symptoms. In addition, there is increasing evidence that the earlier HRT is started, the more you will get protection from osteoporosis and heart disease.

HRT delays the menopause

FALSE

Many women avoid taking HRT as they think that they will then have their menopause. Any symptoms you might experience after stopping HRT are menopausal symptoms you would have experienced even if you had never taken HRT. Without HRT, many women have menopausal symptoms for more than a decade and some women still have hot flushes when they are over 75 years old.

HRT causes clots

FALSE (for some types of HRT)

If you take oral (tablet) HRT then there is a small increased risk of a clot developing in your leg or lungs. This increased risk is very small and is higher if you have other risk factors for developing a clot. These risk factors include being very overweight or having a history of a clot in the past.

However, if you take the oestrogen part of HRT as either a gel or a patch it gets absorbed directly into your body and then is not associated with an increased risk of clot.

HRT will cause heart attacks and strokes

FALSE
Taking HRT when you are under 60 does not actually increase your risk of developing a heart attack. Those women who only need to take oestrogen (without a progestogen) actually have a lower risk of heart disease compared to women who do not take HRT. There is a very small increased risk of stroke in women who take combined HRT but this risk is reduced by using the oestrogen as gels or patches. The risk of stroke in women under 60 is very low however, regardless of whether or not you take HRT.

You can’t take HRT if you have a migraine

FALSE

Many women notice that their migraines worsen as they go through their menopause. As you can’t take the oral contraceptive pill if you have a history of migraines, many women (and doctors) incorrectly think that you cannot take HRT if you have migraines. If you have migraines, then you should take oestrogen as gels or patches rather than as tablets.

You have to stop HRT after five years

FALSE

Many doctors try and encourage women to stop taking HRT after five years. However, there is actually no good scientific reason for this. Each woman needs to be assessed individually for the time they need to take HRT for. The length of time you take HRT for is an individual choice and depends on your individual risks and benefits. If you’re under 51, then you need to take HRT until you are at least 51, regardless of the age you are when you start taking it.

I hope this has clarified some of the more common confusion about HRT. There are many different options available and it’s important that you know the facts.

If in doubt, speak to your doctor or menopause specialist.

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Louise Newson

About Louise Newson

I am a GP and medical writer with a particular interest in the management of the menopause. I have written numerous articles and presented at local and national meetings on topics related to the menopause and its management. To find out more, here's my website. BSc (Hons), MBChB (Hons), MRCP, FRCGP