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What is Estrogen Cream?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Estrogen cream is a topical medication used as a type of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to treat conditions caused by low levels of this important female hormone. There are both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) versions of this medication, which can be applied to the skin or inserted into the vagina. Though both are generally effective, they can have unwanted side effects both on the users and on their family members, so healthcare practitioners usually recommend that women use them for a limited amount of time in a low dosage and take care not to expose others.

Types

Most estrogen creams are made of estradiol or estrone, or conjugated estrogens, which are a mixture of hormones similar to those found in the urine of pregnant horses. Each type can be made synthetically or from natural materials, and they come in topical and vaginal forms. Some preparations come mixed with other hormones, like progesterone, which also declines with age. Though there are some OTC versions, the vaginal ones are almost always prescription-only, as are higher-concentration topical versions.

Uses

Estrogen creams are primarily used to treat the symptoms of menopause, during which a woman's body slows down its estrogen production. This often causes uncomfortable side effects, including vaginal dryness, atrophy, and itching; urinary incontinence; and painful intercourse, all of which estrogen cream may help with. It may also help with other side effects of menopause, like mood swings and insomnia.

When used in topical form, this cream is usually just applied to the skin, but when used vaginally, it typically comes with an applicator. A woman attaches the applicator to the tube of cream and inserts it into her vagina to apply the medication. Other women prefer to just use their fingers to apply it.

Dosages

A trial-and-error period is often required before an effective dose is determined, because absorption levels vary greatly from person to person. Even though estrogen creams are available without a prescription, women should work with a medical professional to find the dosage that works best for them. Regular testing is necessary to monitor hormone levels and prevent a patient from using too much. Healthcare providers typically recommend that individuals avoid applying the medication regularly to the same area of skin to reduce the likelihood of irritation and muscle wasting.

Since research shows that using the supplement twice a week is just as effective as daily doses, clinicians usually recommend using it as infrequently as possible. Healthcare providers also suggest using it in cycles so that the body experiences a resting period, and a typical monthly cycle is three weeks on and one week off. This helps the body better manage the estrogen that it absorbs from the cream.

Side Effects and Contraindications

The most common side effects from estrogen cream are light vaginal bleeding, vaginal discharge, headaches, and yeast infections. It may also cause nausea, abdominal pain, and breast pain. Since this medication is so strong, medical professionals recommend using it for as short a period as possible. Long-term use is associated with dementia, cardiovascular disease, liver problems, and uterine cancer.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use this type of medication, and it is not suitable for those with a history of breast or uterine cancer. It can also make certain conditions worse, including asthma, diabetes, and migraines, so women with these conditions should make sure their healthcare provider knows about them. Also, estrogen can interact with several medications, including blood thinners, so women should check with a medical professional before using any products containing it.

Risks

There is conflicting data to both support and discourage the use of estrogen cream for HRT. It is effective, but it can cause muscle wasting when applied to the same area of skin regularly. When inserted in the vagina, the hormone may affect men exposed during intercourse. Men regularly exposed to estrogen cream through sexual contact can develop symptoms directly related to the hormone, such as breast enlargement. Children and pets can also develop serious side effects from coming into contact with this medication, so it's important to keep it stored safely.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By Cakies — On Nov 20, 2013

I started using Estrace cream three days ago. My doctor said to apply it twice a day and I did. This morning when I woke up I have pains in my ovaries and now I have a light colored discharge (just like what you would see before your period was going to start). I know its not my period because that ended last week.

I washed it off and I'm not using it anymore. There has to be something better than this. And I was only using it for three days!

By anon349353 — On Sep 25, 2013

I was just prescribed estrogen cream from my gynecologist, an, after reading all of these posts, am hesitant to try it. The reason she prescribed it was because of the pain that I have during intercourse. I am post menopausal, widowed and had not had sex in about 15 years (until recently). There's got to be something else out there that doesn't have the side effects that the estrogen cream does.

By sunshined — On Nov 18, 2012

Can using an estrogen cream cause weight gain? I have been using one that I apply to my abdomen and forearms and I have gained a few pounds since I started doing this. This is the only thing I have been different. I am not sure if it has something to do with the cream or if it is just all the changes that are happening in my body.

By bagley79 — On Nov 18, 2012

@LisaLou -- Have you looked in to using something like a bioidentical estrogen cream? These are made with hormones that are identical to what your body produces and do not come from a synthetic source.

I know I feel a lot better about using these than an estrogen prescribed by my family doctor. They have also worked for me! I feel like a different person and am much better able to handle the stress that comes my way.

Before starting bioidentical hormone treatment I had all the classic symptoms of a woman going through menopause. I knew there was no way I could go the next several years with these annoying symptoms. There were affecting every area of my life.

I think this would at least be something to think about. After you have researched it, then you can make an informative decision that is best for you. I have also discussed this with my family doctor and she has no problems with what I am doing.

By LisaLou — On Nov 17, 2012

I am so confused by all of these hormone terms and what they mean. It is also frustrating to know what to do because it sounds like there are lots of unproved ideas or theories out there. One source says one thing and another source says something else.

I am kind of scared to begin using any estrogen topical cream because I have always heard that using estrogen may cause cancer. For years women were prescribed estrogen and then studies came out showing these were linked to cancer. I don't want to keep living with symptoms I have been having, but am also scared to try any of the hormone treatments.

By julies — On Nov 16, 2012
At my last doctor visit I was complaining of some menopause symptoms like hot flashes, and my doctor suggested I try a topical estrogen cream. She also ran some blood work to see where my hormone levels were at. She suggested I start with the cream and see if I had any improvement. If that didn't work, we would look at other alternatives.
By erica12345 — On Apr 03, 2012

I have a question for snowy winter. Which hormone pill are you talking about that is for depression or nervousness, my mom has been having a horrible time going through menopause. It's like a roller coaster every day and I am trying to find out different things she could try.

By anon236940 — On Dec 26, 2011

I am 57 years old and had a total hysterectomy in 2007 because of uterine cancer. The cancer was 11 percent superficial and I continue to be cancer free. I do smoke cigarettes, about a half a pack a day. I have an overactive bladder that is very bothersome. I also still experience mood swings, migraines, fatigue and other menopausal complaints. My skin is very dry and itchy and face skin is very saggy. I am at the point that I want to try estrogen cream. I have had it with this menopause stuff and want to try it!

By kmarbury — On Nov 25, 2010

Has anyone ever had any reaction with their lips such as lip swelling, dry, cracking, hardening of the edges and pain with a natural estrogen or progesterone cream compounded by a pharmacy? Help!

By marcibheath — On Nov 14, 2010

Will estrogen cream cause headaches? Will it cause any effects to the breasts?

By medicchristy — On Sep 12, 2010

@chrisinbama: I thought that it would only be fair to say that some women do not experience any side effects from the use of estrogen cream. It is often hard to determine if a side effect is caused by the cream or from something else. For example, if you experienced a headache while using the cream, it would be hard to say whether it was from the cream or from something else.

By WaterHopper — On Sep 12, 2010

@chrisinbama: There are other side effects from use of estrogen cream that are not quite as serious. Those include breast tenderness, loss of appetite, sudden change in weight, swelling in the ankles and legs, nausea, stomach cramps, bloated feeling, vomiting, and water retention.

There may also be a rash at the site that the cream was applied.

By SnowyWinter — On Sep 12, 2010

@chrisinbama: Before we get into the side effects, it is important to note that estrogen cream does not replace hormone pills that many women may take for post-menopausal depression or nervousness. Estrogen cream will not treat those conditions.

There are a number of different side effects that estrogen cream may cause. You should fully understand every aspect of estrogen cream before using it. If taking an extreme amount of estrogen, the chances of endometrial cancer in women who are post-menopausal are increased. Low levels of estrogen are, however, considered safe. Other side effects from long-term use of estrogen are liver problems, blood clots, high blood pressure and glucose intolerance.

By chrisinbama — On Sep 12, 2010

What are some of the estrogen cream side effects?

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
Learn more
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