Localized hormone therapy is a prescription estrogen supplement provided on location.
Usually applied inside the vagina, but sometimes on external genitalia, these localized hormones help treat or prevent various conditions, most commonly atrophy of the vaginal tissues.
Localized hormones, absorbed through the vagina, are delivered at very low doses, doses that don't enter the general blood stream, but remain "local" only. Currently there are three of these low-dose options: a ring, a vaginal tablet, and a cream. These are also considered for women who have had a diagnosis of breast cancer who need improvement in the quality of their vagina.
Circulating estrogen keeps our vaginal tissues strong, resilient, and responsive. When our estrogen levels drop and stay low in menopause, the vaginal tissues thin and circulation drops. If we are not sexually active, those changes happen much more quickly. Restoring vaginal estrogen works to increase blood flow and lubrication, tone, and elasticity in the genital tissues, and together these changes improve sexual response.
Hormone therapy for other conditions, like vulvodynia, may include a mix of hormones including estrogen and/or testosterone. The formula is customized by her physician for a woman’s particular condition and health history.
Ask your doctor whether localized hormone supplementation is right for you. You will need a prescription to use them. Localized estrogen supplements are most commonly available in a vaginal ring form or tablet form or cream, each of which is inserted into the vagina.
The ring has the advantage of staying in for three months at a time (removing the ring once a week for a few hours to give your body a break is a good practice). But the ring may be difficult for anyone who has had difficulty with ring devices in the past or whose vagina has shortened and narrowed. The creams are comfortable for many women, though some find them messy. The tablet, inserted once a day for 14 days initially, and then used just twice per week after, makes use of a very thin applicator. The tablet dissolves within a few hours.
Estrogen Where It’s Needed
Q: As a breast cancer survivor, can I use localized estrogen?
The Vagina Dialogues: Treating Vulvovaginal Atrophy
Q: Does localized hormone use increase breast cancer risk?
The Maintenance Years
Q: Can I get an over-the-counter estrogen cream for vaginal dryness?