Menopause happens when your ovaries stop producing their normal amounts of estrogen and progesterone, which causes your normal period cycle to stop entirely. In addition to stopping your period, however, the decreased levels of estrogen and progesterone normally cause several other effects, like fatigue and hot flashes, and these symptoms usually begin long before your normal period cycle finally stops for good.
Hormone replacement therapy can help stop these symptoms, as taking estrogen and progesterone helps to make up for the fact that your ovaries are no longer producing them in their normal quantities. If you're starting to experience menopause-related symptoms and are wondering when it's a good idea to start hormone replacement therapy in order to help treat them, read on.
When Do Menopause Symptoms Usually Occur?
For most women, menopause will occur in their early 50s. This is when a woman's period finally stops permanently. However, women often experience menopause symptoms for about ten years before menopause finally occurs. Estrogen and progesterone levels in the body will fluctuate during this time, and these hormonal fluctuations are responsible for the symptoms. This period of time is called perimenopause.
Early symptoms are typically non-specific and can include depression, insomnia, irregular periods, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. As perimenopause continues, symptoms tend to worsen and develop into definite symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes. Hormone replacement therapy can stabilize estrogen and progesterone levels within the body, which helps reduce the menopause-related symptoms that you experience.
How Soon Can You Start Hormone Replacement Therapy for Perimenopause?
You can begin hormone replacement therapy as soon as you start to experience menopause-related symptoms. You don't need to wait until you stop getting your period entirely. Perimenopause symptoms can be quite severe, and they can decrease your quality of life. Symptoms like insomnia and hot flashes can prevent you from getting a good night's sleep, leading to you feeling fatigued all day long. Stabilizing your body's hormone levels with hormone replacement therapy can help you feel more energetic throughout the day.
In addition, starting hormone replacement therapy early is better for your future bone health. As estrogen levels decline, your bone density begins to decrease, and this can lead to you developing osteoporosis. Maintaining your estrogen levels helps to prevent your bones from becoming weaker and more prone to fracturing. If you wait until after menopause to begin therapy, then most of the bone loss has already occurred.
Are You Ever Too Old to Start Hormone Replacement Therapy?
While it may be too late to stop some of the changes associated with menopause, starting hormone replacement therapy after menopause can still be helpful. Some menopause-related symptoms like vaginal dryness and urinary incontinence can be treated with hormone replacement therapy. No matter your age, replacing your lost hormones can help reduce your menopause-related symptoms.
Overall, starting hormone replacement therapy early has a number of benefits — it helps to maintain your bone health, and it can effectively treat the symptoms that you experience during perimenopause. The primary downside of starting hormone replacement early is that your risk of breast cancer increases — extra estrogen and progesterone can fuel the growth of hormonally linked cancers like breast cancer. However, the absolute risk still remains relatively low, usually making hormone replacement worth it if your menopause-related symptoms are severely affecting your life.
If you're going through perimenopause and are interested in treating your related symptoms, schedule an appointment with an OB/GYN in your area that provides hormone replacement therapy — they'll be able to help you weigh the increased risk of breast cancer against the benefits of replacing your lost hormones.