Hormone replacement therapy and effects on mood
Abstract: Background: During the past 5 decades, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has been used, and appreciated for its beneficial effects, by millions of women in their menopause. As treatment for climacteric symptoms, estrogen is outstanding, and effects on hot flushes, vaginal dryness, and insomnia have been widely documented. The increased risks of venous thrombosis and breast cancer, however, restrict the use of estrogen.Estrogen treatment in women with a remaining uterus includes a progestin, added to protect the endometrium from hyperplasia and malignancies. The long-standing clinical impression, that progestin addition negatively influences mood, has been discussed in previous studies. Mood deterioration is, however, not mortal, although mood is important to the wellbeing and daily functioning of women treated with hormones. Studies of the mental side effects of HRT add to our understanding of steroid effects in the brain.Aims and methods: In our studies, we aimed to establish to what extent negative side effects cause women to discontinue HRT, and find out which drug compounds lead to mood deterioration. The questions asked were whether the type and dose of progestin and the estrogen dose during the progestin addition influence the mood and physical symptoms during sequential HRT.Compliance with HRT and reasons for discontinuing the therapy were evaluated in a retrospective longitudinal follow-up study. Treatment effects were studied in three randomized, double-blind, cross-over trials. During continuous estrogen treatment, effects of sequential addition of a progestin were studied by comparing two different progestins, medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA) andnorethisterone acetate (NETA), comparing different doses of the same progestin, MPA, and comparing two doses of estrogen during addition of the same dose of MPA. The main outcome measure was the daily rating on mood and physical symptoms kept by the participants throughout the studies. The clinical trials were carried out at three gynecological centers in northern Sweden.Results and conclusions: Besides fear of cancer and a wish to determine whether climacteric symptoms had meanwhile disappeared, negative side effects was the most common reason or discontinuing HRT. Tension in the breasts, weight gain, a depressed mood, abdominal bloating, and irritability were the most important side effects seen both in women who continued HRT and in women who had discontinued the therapy.In our clinical trials, we showed that addition of a progestin to estrogen treatment induces cyclic mood swings characterized by tension, irritability, and depression, as well as increased breast tension, bloatedness, and hot flushes. Women with a history of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) appeared to be more sensitive to the progestin addition and responded with lower mood scores compared with women without previous PMS. In our studies, MPA provoked depressed mood to a lesser extent than did NETA. Surprisingly, the higher dose of MPA (20 mg) enhanced the mood, compared with 10 mg, when added to estrogen treatment. In women continuously treated with 3 mg estradiol, mood and physical symptoms worsened during the progestin addition, as compared with treatment with 2 mg estradiol. The negative side effects seen during sequential HRT have much in common with symptoms seen in the premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which is a psychoneuroendocrine disorder with psychiatric expression. Explanations for treatment effects on mood are likely to be found in drug interactions with neurotransmitter systems of the brain.
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