Hormone replacement therapy for women going through menopause works by replacing hormones that the body ceases to make after menopause, explains the Mayo Clinic. Hormone replacement therapy medications contain the hormone estrogen, and in some cases includes the hormone progesterone.
Two common forms of hormone replacement therapy are systemic estrogen formulations and vaginal preparations, says the Mayo Clinic. Systemic estrogen, which comes in pill, skin patch and topical forms, is most effective for symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats. Vaginal preparations treat vaginal and urinary symptoms, while limiting the amount of estrogen the body absorbs. Using systemic estrogen alone increases the risk of uterine cancer, so women who still have their uteruses typically take progesterone along with it.
In the past, doctors routinely recommended hormone replacement therapy for menopausal women, but in recent years that has changed, according to the Mayo Clinic. Now doctors recommend it for women who meet certain criteria such as early menopause or severe menopausal symptoms. Some of the risks of hormone replacement therapy are heart disease, stroke and increased risk of blood clots or breast cancer. These risks vary in severity according to age, family history and other health conditions that already put a woman at higher risk of heart disease or cancer.