Hormone Therapy Nomenclature: What’s in a name?
The menopause journey can feel like it has its own unique language. Is it “hormone therapy” or “hormone replacement therapy?” Are they the same, or different? If you think menopause lingo feels like alphabet soup, you are not alone.
“Hormone therapy for menopause has undergone various naming conventions over the years, and the terminology can vary among healthcare professionals and organizations.”
-Dr. Mary Claire Haver
The terms that are used to describe hormone therapy in menopause are evolving as experts learn more and opinions change in the medical field. This means it takes some effort to keep up with the latest opinions and terminology. I’m weighing in to give you the facts about hormone therapy during menopause, and what the different terms and phrases actually mean.
Hormone Therapy (HT)
This is a general term that describes the use of hormones to address various medical conditions, including menopause. It is a broad term that does not specifically indicate menopause, as hormones can be used to treat a variety of other conditions.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
HRT was the term originally used to describe the practice of replacing hormones that decrease during menopause. However, it fell out of favor because of concerns and controversies surrounding the risks and benefits.
Menopausal Hormone Therapy (MHT)
Menopausal hormone therapy is becoming a more popular name for what has historically been called hormone replacement therapy. MHT describes hormonal therapy that is used for women experiencing menopausal symptoms. Adding the word “menopausal” to “hormone therapy” clarifies that this type of therapy is intended for women in midlife and beyond.
The Debate Over Hormone Therapy for Menopause
In addition to deciphering all the different terminology used to describe menopause treatment, our society still has much to learn about the risks and benefits of hormone therapy. Differences of opinion are shouted loudly by healthcare providers via the media, and by well-meaning friends on social media, leaving women confused and unsure who to believe.
“The debate surrounding HRT has been fueled by concerns about safety, overinflated risks, and the lack of training for healthcare providers in menopause treatment.”
-Dr. Mary Claire Haver
In the early 2000s, the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) conducted a study that raised concerns about potential risks associated with HRT, including an increased risk of heart disease, breast cancer, and stroke. This study created a sense of fear and skepticism among both patients and healthcare providers and led to a decline in the use of HRT for menopause.
However, subsequent research has provided a more nuanced understanding of HRT. Experts now know the risks and benefits can vary based on the type of hormones being used, the timing of treatment, and the woman’s individual health profile.
Media coverage of the initial WHI findings sensationalized the risks associated with HRT, which contributed to misconceptions and fear among the public. It's important to understand that the absolute risks of adverse events associated with HRT are relatively low for most women. This is not a one-size-fits-all therapy.
Lack of Training and Awareness
Most healthcare providers have not received comprehensive training in menopause management during their medical education. It simply was not emphasized among other topics in the medical-school curriculum. This reality leaves many providers with gaps in their education and a lack of understanding of the latest treatment options and guidelines, and can result in suboptimal care for women experiencing menopause symptoms.
The lack of awareness of treatment options, risks, and benefits among women in the community also contributes to societal misconceptions and a reluctance to explore treatment options.
Where do we go next?
The debate and confusion surrounding hormone replacement therapy for menopause symptoms are multifaceted and, to some extent, warranted.
We need to approach this topic with a balanced perspective, considering all the facts. It is essential for healthcare providers to stay updated on the latest evidence-based practices and for patients to have open and informed discussions with their providers to make personalized decisions about menopausal hormone therapy.
Improved patient education and open, informed discussions with healthcare providers are crucial for making well-informed decisions and providing safe, effective care for women experiencing menopause.