Because the human body is both intricately connected and extremely complicated, changing one thing can often change something else.
This ripple is referred to as side effects.
Every type of medical procedure or intervention has the possibility of side effects, including hormone therapy.
Learn more about hormone replacement therapy side effects in this article.
Why Does Hormone Therapy Cause Side Effects?
Hormonal therapy is often used to either block hormones that are overdeveloping or stimulate hormones that are lacking.
By reducing or increasing critical hormones, it can cause other things to change in your body too.
The two most common forms of HRT (hormone replacement therapy) are either surgery or medicine. Both carry side effects.
- Surgery – Hormones are created naturally in the body by our organs. Surgery may be recommended to actually remove the organ completely to prevent hormones that overproduce and pose a risk of cancer. For example, in men, the testes make testosterone. The testes can be removed to slow the growth of some prostate cancers.
- Medicine – Medicines are used to either block or stimulate hormone production. For example, the medicine tamoxifen helps prevent estrogen from stimulating breast cancer growth.
Hormone Therapy Side Effects in Men
In men, the most common hormone therapy involves the use of testosterone. Testosterone controls the development and growth of the sexual organs, including the prostate.
It also controls other male characteristics, such as erections and muscle strength, and may significantly affect the way you think and feel.
These are hormone replacement therapy side effects you may experience when testosterone is changed in the body.
- Hot Flashes – A hot flash, or hot flush, can be anywhere from a few seconds to hours of extreme heat or sweating. These can happen suddenly and without warning. The best management for hot flashes is increased hydration, keeping your living space cool, cotton clothing, and a lukewarm bath. For severe hot flashes, there are medications to help relieve the symptoms.
- Extreme Tiredness – This is one of the most common hormone replacement therapy side effects. Maintaining physical activity, keeping a regular sleep schedule, and a well-balanced diet can help with this extra tiredness.
- Changes in Sex Life – HRT side effects may also include low libido, problems attaining an erection, changes in orgasm, or shorter penis size. Perhaps the best way to manage changes in your sex hormones is to discuss your thoughts and feelings with your partner and find new ways to create intimacy and face these changes together.
- Weight Gain – Men tend to put on a little weight while taking hormone therapy, particularly around the midsection. This is a good time to get in the habit of taking a walk and getting in exercise throughout the day.
- Strength and Muscle Loss – Because testosterone is a major player in building muscle, losing that can affect the way your body looks and how strong you feel. Resistance exercises are great for building back muscle tone and keeping your existing muscles strong
- Memory & Concentration Loss – Because your brain is also a muscle, some men may experience brain fog. Keeping your mind active, eating a balanced diet, and getting plenty of sleep can help with memory loss and concentration side effects.
- Breast Swelling & Tenderness – For some men, hormone replacement therapy side effects may include noticeable changes in breast tenderness, size, and feeling of their chest. This is most common with anti-androgen tablets. There are a few treatments available including Tamoxifen, radiotherapy, or even surgery along with diet and exercise.
- Losing Bone Density – This is often referred to as bone thinning and can increase the longer you are on hormone treatment. If left alone, bone thinning will lead to osteoporosis. Lifestyle changes as well as medication can help to treat bone weakness.
- Loss of Body Hair – Losing hair is one of the common hormone replacement therapy side effects. Some men may lose their body hair while on treatment. Many times, this will grow back when you stop hormone therapy.
Side Effects of Hormone Therapy in Women
In women, the two hormones most present are estrogen and progesterone. These two hormones can promote the growth of some cancerous tumors, which may be blocked through HRT.
For most women’s health, hormone replacement therapy side effects are worse at the beginning of treatment and will settle down after a few weeks.
- Tiredness – This can vary from minor fatigue to a complete lack of energy. Short power naps throughout the day combined with a healthy diet and regular exercise can help significantly.
- Digestive System Problems – While digestive problems such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are less common symptoms, they are still a side effect of HRT. If any of these become an issue, you can often manage the uncomfortable symptoms with diet or discuss medical options with your doctor.
- Menopausal Symptoms – HRT can increase the onset of menopause and stop your periods. This may be temporary or permanent, and these menopause symptoms may cause additional side effects such as vaginal dryness, hot flashes, or lowered libido. In the case of postmenopausal women, they may experience vaginal symptoms such as vaginal bleeding that occurs a year or more after their last menstrual cycle.
- Hair Thinning – Some hormone replacement therapy side effects include hair thinning, but this is not usually severe or noticeable. If you’re concerned about hair thinning there may be both topical treatments and medication available.
- Muscle & Bone Changes – Pain in your joints is a common side effect of HRT, especially if you are experiencing bone loss. A mild over-the-counter painkiller may help as well as weight-bearing exercise and some prescription drugs.
- Weight Gain – It is often a struggle to keep your weight low while using hormone replacement therapies. Maintain a healthy diet and exercise and consult with a dietician for advice on managing healthy weight with HRT.
- Headaches – This is one of the most common hormone replacement therapy side effects in women but is usually mild that can be easily managed with a low-dose painkiller.
- Memory Problems – A small loss in memory, brain fog, or trouble concentrating can be normal. Small behavioral changes can help make life easier, but if memory loss is a significant issue your doctor may be able to provide additional resources.
- Mood Swings – This looks different for everyone. It may show up as nervousness, depression, anxiety, or anger. Many doctors will recommend yoga, or meditation practice to help boost your mood changes and ease anxiety.
- Blood Clots – Although rare, blood clots are still one of the hormone replacement therapy side effects. Always talk to your doctor if you have a history of blood clots and always get medical care if you experience shortness of breath, chest pain, or coughing up blood.
- Osteoporosis – Some forms of HRT can cause bone loss, where your bones become porous and break easily. Regular screenings can check the bone density in your body and warn you of possible future issues. Always taking a calcium and vitamin D supplement along with regular physical activity and reducing alcohol can strengthen your bones and prevent bone loss.
Talking to Your Doctor About Hormone Replacement Therapy
Hormone replacement therapy can be a great option for managing the hormones your body relies on.
Use the following questions to navigate a conversation with your doctor about HRT and whether it may or may not be an effective treatment option for you:
- Does your medical history preclude HRT?
- What symptoms are you having, and could HRT treat those?
- Are there other treatments you should consider?
- What are the possible side effects from HRT and how would those be treated?
- Does my family medical history or personal medical history make me a good or bad candidate for HRT?
FAQs About Hormone Therapy Side Effects