Typically, hormone therapy is prescribed as either an estrogen-only drug (ET) or as an estrogen plus progestin drug (EPT). Women who still have their uterus need the combination drug (EPT) to protect them from uterine/endometrial cancer. HT relieves many of the symptoms of menopause (hot flashes, vaginal dryness), slows bone loss associated with osteoporosis, and improves symptoms associated with an overactive bladder and mood disorders (anxiety and depression).
The main risks associated with HT include stroke, blood clots, and breast cancer and can vary depending on your health history. Researchers continue to explore ways to reduce these risks by using different drug combinations and delivery methods, along with studying the optimum length of time to safely use HT. Starting HT soon after menopause begins appears to reduce the risks associated with HT in some cases.
The general recommendation for women who use HT is to use the lowest possible dose for the shortest amount of time. Research also shows that localized or topical estrogen (patches, gels, rings) may be metabolized differently and may reduce certain risks. Other types of therapies that are currently being studied to treat menopause symptoms and sexual issues include nonhormonal alternatives such as selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, selective estrogen receptor modulators, nerve block injections, bazedoxifene, ospemifene, etc. These alternatives are discussed elsewhere on this site.