Davinder Bhullar was just 45 years old when she started experiencing symptoms of menopause.
“I had actually had a partial hysterectomy about seven years ago and started having symptoms in the second month,” the Calgary nurse said. “Water retention, forgetting things… I had heart palpitations and no energy.”
Suspecting her symptoms were related to low levels of estrogen, Bhullar began to ask doctors about hormone replacement therapy.
“I had actually gone to quite a few [doctors] and I was deterred. Instead, I had a doctor recommend I take an antidepressant.”
Busting myths about menopause
Controversy and confusion has surrounded hormone replacement therapy (HRT) since a major study back in 2002. An initial results paper from the Women’s Health Initiative grabbed headlines because it appeared to link HRT with an increased risk of breast cancer.
“HRT was branded as being harmful, something that women should certainly avoid, and it did unfortunately turn the tide and really turned the world upside down,” said Dr. Robert Langer, principal scientist at the Jackson Hole Centre for Preventive Medicine and a researcher involved with the Women’s Health Initiative.
Langer says results that linked HRT with cancer risk were largely misinterpreted and overstated. He says in recent years, research has lead medical societies to again recommend hormone therapy, especially for younger women.
How menopause affects heart disease, diabetes and stroke risk in women
Last year, groups like the International Menopause Society endorsed a new global consensus statement. It states in part, “MPT (Menopausal Hormone Therapy) is the most effective treatment for symptoms associated with menopause,” and that for women under the age of 60, “benefits are more likely to outweigh risks.“
“If (women) do have symptoms — hot flashes, night sweats, other discomfort, concerns about sexuality after menopause as well as other indications like prevention of fractures — HRT is something that they should well consider.”
Langer also warns that avoiding hormone therapy can have serious consequences for patients, putting them at an increased risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and bone fractures. A 2013 study estimated that over 90,000 American women died prematurely between 2002 and 2012 as a result of avoiding estrogen therapy.
Bhullar eventually found a doctor who was willing to prescribe hormone replacement therapy for her symptoms. She says she has now been taking low doses of estrogen for six years and has no regrets.
“In two to three weeks of taking [the hormones], my energy was back. I had no foggy brain, I wasn’t tired anymore and the heart palpitations stopped. I was back to my normal self.”