If you're a  woman in your 40s and your menstrual cycles are no longer predictable, you may be showing early signs that you're going into menopause. Some of the symptoms of early menopause are rough to handle. Learn more about how you can tell if you are in early menopause, and how hormone replacement therapy might help ease your symptoms.

What are the symptoms of early menopause?

Menopause is the end of a woman's reproductive cycle. Early menopause (also called "perimenopause") is the time period just before menopause when the levels of certain hormones in your body, particularly estrogen and progesterone, begin to decrease.

Because your hormone levels aren't steady, it can cause certain side effects, such as

  • hot flashes
  • night sweats
  • insomnia
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • increased facial hair
  • vaginal dryness
  • decreased sex drive
  • thinning bones (osteoporosis)

Not every woman is going to have the same symptoms, and some of the symptoms are more tolerable than others. If you have symptoms that are making you feel miserable, you might want to consider hormone replacement therapy.

What is hormone replacement therapy?

If you take extra progesterone or estrogen to either level out or increase the levels of those hormones in your body, it's called hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

There's a lot of disagreement in the medical world about how HRT should be used: briefly, indefinitely, only during early menopause, or long after actual menopause, or in the rhythmic cycle found in younger women (known as the Wiley Protocol).

There's even disagreement about the best way to take the estrogen and progesterone: through natural hormones or bioidentical hormones, and with pills, patches, or creams.

While some doctors rely on standard prescription medications for HRT, many are choosing to use compound drugs instead.

What are compound HRT drugs?

Regular HRT medications are made as if "one size fits all," while compound estrogen and progesterone drugs are tailored to the needs of each individual woman.

Some women use compound drugs in order to avoid things that they're allergic to (like dyes or peanut oil), and some use them because the drugs can be prescribed in unique ways (like in the Wiley Protocol) that you just can't get from a regular prescription.

Where do you find compound drugs?

If your doctor prescribes a compound drug for you, you would get the medication through a compounding pharmacy like Fitzgerald pharmacy.

A compounding pharmacy has a pharmacist specially trained to prepare the specific formula you need, the way your doctor prescribes it. 

Only you and your physician can decide what type of hormone replacement therapy is right for you, but you should take an active role in that decision, especially if you feel that a compound drug is better for you than a regular prescription medication. Keep in mind that you're a unique individual with unique needs, and you may need a unique medication as well.