Last month, a Serious Shortage Protocol was issued for Utrogestan, a type of HRT. Healthista spoke to Dr. Sarah Brewer of Origins, to learn more about the HRT shortage, plus what women can do in the meantime to mitigate menopause symptoms
It’s no secret that menopause is still considered to some a taboo topic, even though one-third of the United Kingdom’s female population is perimenopausal or menopausal, which is equal to about 13 million women.
production of oestrogen and progesterone decrease during menopause
This drop in hormones can cause many of the symptoms seen during menopause, including hot flushes, mood swings and reduced libido, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
To alleviate these symptoms, women can undergo Hormone Replacement Therapy, also known as HRT. However, a serious shortage protocol (SSP) was issued last month for 100mg capsules of Utrogestan, a type of HRT, according to the Department of Health and Social Care.
Pharmacists can now only prescribe two months’ worth of Utrogestan at a time, per person. This shortage is expected to continue until late this year as manufacturers continue to struggle to meet the demand.
READ MORE: HRT Myth Busting with Dr Louise Newson
What is HRT?
HRT is a way for women to replace the hormones that are not being produced during menopause, according to the National Health Service.
There are two types of HRT:
- Combined HRT: this treatment has both oestrogen and progestogen, (a type of progesterone). Women who still have their womb need to take progesterone with oestrogen to protect the uterus from developing endometrial cancer.
- Oestrogen-only HRT: this treatment only contains oestrogen and is for women who have had a hysterectomy and no longer have a womb.
HRT can be taken in several ways, including tablets, skin patches, oestrogen gel and implants
There are risks associated with HRT, but they usually depend on the type you take and how long you take it for. While risks can include breast cancer, blood clots and heart problems, the chances of these are still low.
READ MORE: Leading Menopause Expert Dr Louise Newson reveals 5 common HRT myths most people believe
Why did this shortage happen and how will it affect me?
Dr. Sarah Brewer of Origins says there are many reasons why the HRT shortage is happening. One primary factor is due to the increased demand for the treatment, especially due to recent efforts to improve accessibility of the medication.
In fact, in the last two years, the number of women being prescribed HRT increased from 11 per cent to 15 per cent, and continues to rise.
Other factors Dr. Brewer mentioned are shortages of raw ingredients, supply chain issues and manufacturing problems, such as quality assurance failures.
HRT shortages can be ‘debilitating’ for women
Not taking your HRT can result in a return of menopausal symptoms, along with increased anxiety and panic over not having access to your medication, says Dr. Brewer.
Also, since HRT helps lower the risk of future long-term health problems, not having access to treatment can cause potential issues down the road.
‘For women who are taking a particular brand of HRT that suits them, it is distressing to find it is not available,’ Dr. Brewer says.
‘It’s usually possible for a doctor to prescribe an alternative, but this may not suit you as well as your usual brand and you may experience unwanted side effects.’
READ MORE: 10 perimenopause symptoms that could explain your moods, aches and low libido
Is anything being done about it?
The UK government says they are taking several steps to ensure women have access to their medication.
Some of these actions include:
- Having meetings with suppliers and requesting stock updates frequently.
- Holding roundtables with suppliers, wholesalers and pharmacists about HRT stock.
- Including some HRT medications on a list of products that cannot be hoarded in or exported from the UK.
This isn’t the only HRT shortage the government has had to deal with recently. Just last year, a shortage left thousands of women struggling to access their medication and an HRT taskforce was created to address supply chain issues. There has been no word if a similar group will be formed for this year’s shortage crisis.
READ MORE: From hot flushes to vaginal dryness – 6 top tips to ease menopause symptoms
What can I do in the meantime?
If the need arises, women can find alternative brands and types of HRT to take, if their current medication is unavailable.
The British Menopause Society (BMS) has a guide on the alternative treatment options available for menopausal women undergoing HRT.
While it can be stressful to switch away from a medication that works for you, seeking out similar treatments is one of the best things you can do during this supply shortage.
Dr. Sarah Brewer of Origins has four University degrees in Natural Sciences, Medicine, Surgery, and Nutritional Medicine and has practised medicine for more than 30 years. She also has written over 70 health and nutrition books.
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