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A guide to the menopause

What are the symptoms of the menopause?

They include hot flushes, where women suddenly experience a wave of heat and their skin can flush red, night sweats, insomnia, tiredness, mood swings and vaginal dryness, which can affect desire for sex.

Why does it happen?

Because of the drop in the woman’s naturally made hormones, particularly oestrogen, as a result of her ovaries ceasing to produce eggs.

When does the menopause occur?

At an average age of 51, but it is variable and some women experience a premature menopause in their 40s and 1 in 100 go through it even earlier. Some suffer it early as a result of cancer treatment.

What is HRT?

Hormone replacement therapy is literally that – giving women artificially made hormones in the form of pills or patches.

Which hormones are women given?

Oestrogen replacement effectively ends the symptoms. But if given on its own, it increases the risk that women will get cancer of the womb, so those who have not had a hysterectomy are given progestogen as well, which is protective.

Does HRT have any other benefits?

It helps prevent thinning bones, which is a problem as women go through menopause and get older, and lessens the risk of fractures.

How many women have taken HRT?

More than 100 million women worldwide.

In the UK?

Two million women were thought to be on it before studies revealed cancer risks. The numbers then halved.

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What are the risks?

HRT is responsible for about five breast cancers per 1,000 women taking it for five years, studies have shown. The risk is low for women taking oestrogen only. When women stop taking the drugs, their risk returns to normal over about five years. HRT is also linked to one case of ovarian cancer per 1,000 women taking it for five years from the age of 50. There is also a very small increased risk of stroke.


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