What does hormone replacement therapy mean?

Hormone replacement therapy or HRT is a commonly used treatment, prescribed after a medical consultation, to correct imbalances in hormones such as male and female hormones. Familiar types of HRT are oestrogen patches, testosterone patches and more recently, bioidentical hormone preparations.

HRT is prescribed for women in the perimenopause, menopause and for those who suffer with pre-menstrual tension.

For men, testosterone replacement is prescribed when there is a diagnosis of testosterone deficiency following the development of symptoms.

What are hormones?

Hormones are chemicals that your glands (thyroid, ovary, pituitary to name a few) produce. They are taken to all parts of your body through your blood. Once a hormone reaches its target, it instructs the organ on how it should behave.

Here are some of the processes that hormones regulate in our bodies:

  • General growth and development.
  • Your mood and how prone you are to irritability and stress
  • Sexual function and libido
  • Menstrual cycle (your periods)
  • How much you feel the heat and cold
  • Your body temperature
  • Metabolic rate and energy levels
  • Appetite, hunger and bowel function
  • Memory and recall
  • heart rate
  • how well you sleep (or not)

Men are affected mainly by imbalances in testosterone levels, while women will be affected most by changes in their levels of oestrogen and progesterone.

Hormone imbalances that affect both men and women involve insulin (diabetes), growth hormones, and thyroid hormones.

Symptoms of hormone imbalance

Before planning hormone therapy, it is important to take a full medical history. This helps to find out what is the underlying cause of your symptoms and which hormones are causing them.

Here are some symptoms of hormonal imbalance:

  • Anxiety or irritability

  • Feeling tired all the time

  • Weight loss or weight gain that you cannot explain

  • Increased sweating at previously comfortable temperatures

  • Difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep

  • Dry, dull or sensitive skin

  • Thinning bones (osteopenia)

  • thinning hair or brittle hair

  • Reduced sex drive

  • Dryness down below (vaginal dryness, frequent thrush or cystitis)

  • Increased fat in the midriff – the so-called “middle age spread”

The causes of hormonal imbalance are many. Medical conditions like diabetes and thyroid problems, life stages like puberty, perimenopause, andropause and menopause – these may sound familiar to most of us.

We also know now that long term stress, major illness or life stress and burnout at work – all can contribute to the development of hormone imbalance in both men and women. Smoking can lead to an earlier menopause in most women.

Extreme weight loss (or weight gain) at any stage in life is known to cause hormonal imbalance rapidly.