The hormone-based medications have the effect of the naturally produced hormones by the body and they are prescribed when the body does not produce enough of those hormones.


The category of hormone medications includes:


Some diabetes medications: these are based on insulin or glucagon. Insulin is used in diabetes to monitor glucose levels in the blood. Instead, glucagon is usually administered only in cases of emergency, when the blood glucose levels must be quickly increased.


The contraceptive hormone: they may include only progestin – hormones that prevent ovulation, change the characteristics of the wall of the uterus, and thicken cervical mucus – or progestin combined with estrogen – hormones that prevent the production of the eggs.


Estrogens used in HRT therapy: used to reduce the symptoms of menopause. They act to help women cope with the decline in estrogen typical of this phase of a woman's life.


The medroxiprogesterone: hormone used to treat menstrual disorders. Its mechanism of action is based on the ability to maintain the features of the uterus wall developed during pregnancy.


Steroids: they are used to treat allergies, eczema, insect bites, and inflammatory diseases such as arthritis and asthma. They can block the action of different substances used by the immune system to begin the inflammatory process, or interfere with the functioning of white blood cells.


Thyroid medications: taken in case of hypothyroidism. They aim to overcome the shortage of thyroid hormones typical of this condition and they can also be useful in the case of myxedema associated with hypothyroidism, thyroid cancer (in which case work by preventing the release of hormones from the tumor nodules) and thyrotoxicosis, a condition caused by an excess of hormone production by the thyroid, which can lead to the appearance of goiter.


How should hormone medications be taken?


Hormone medications can be taken in the form of tablets, injections, sprays, transdermal patches, vaginal rings, IUDs or implants. Their use should always be done under strict medical supervision.


Contraindications and warnings associated with the use of hormone medications


The possible adverse effects associated with taking hormones vary depending on the active substance taken into account.


In general, the potential risks of taking insulin may include:


  • Hypoglycemia
  • Alteration of some blood parameters
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis
  • Blurred vision
  • Edema
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Lipodystrophy
  • Allergic reactions


The use of glucagon is associated with the risk of:


  • Hyperglycemia
  • Hypokalaemia
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hypersensitivity reactions (rare)


Hormonal contraceptives have been associated with the risk of:


  • Spotting
  • Mastodynia
  • Nausea
  • Swelling
  • Weight gain
  • Decreased sexual desire


However, hormones of the latest generation are generally well tolerated. Since some hormones increase the risk of thrombosis, they may not be recommended for some women. Moreover, their intake is also not recommended for smokers.

Hormone replacement therapy has been associated with a slightly increased risk of breast cancer, endometrial hyperplasia and thrombosis. The most discussed risk of cancer appears to increase in women undergoing substituted hormonal therapy for more than 5 years; while a shorter-term therapy would not be associated with the same risks.


Relative to the form in which they are taken, steroids can be associated with the following risks:


  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Weight gain
  • Thinning of the skin
  • Acne
  • Slow wound healing
  • Slowing of growth in children
  • Muscle weakness
  • Mood changes

Furthermore, long-term oral use of steroids increases the risk of developing:


  • Diabetes
  • High pressure
  • Osteoporosis
  • Glaucoma
  • Cataract


Steroids that are inhaled may instead cause the appearance of thrush in the mouth, while the injections in the joints can cause pain and swelling. Finally, injected into a vein, steroids can cause stomach problems or cause rapid heartbeat, insomnia and mood swings. Steroids can also interact with other medications or interfere with their action. Among the medications at-risk are included the anticoagulants, anticonvulsants, anti-diabetics, anti-retrovirals, bronchodilators, and live vaccines.


The thyroid hormones are generally well tolerated. In some cases, however, they can result in:


  • Chest pain
  • Increased heart rate
  • Excessive sweating
  • Heat intolerance
  • Nervousness
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Menstrual irregularities


In addition, these hormones can interfere with the effect of other drugs, such as those used for blood glucose control, some anticoagulants, intravenous epinephrine, beta-blockers, digoxin, and theophylline. Finally, the effectiveness of thyroid hormones may decrease when taken together with calcium carbonate or other molecules that hinder the absorption.