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Health Team

Study: Hormone Therapy Can Be Safe for Heart Within Time Period

Posted April 3, 2007

Women who suffer the hot flashes and night sweats of menopause often seek relief. Hormone therapy is an option, but what about the health risks? A new study shows there is a window of time when estrogen therapy is safe for the heart.

Ten years ago, Gerrye Boggs first felt the signs of menopause. As part of a study, she agreed to take hormone therapy.

"We all thought that there was a benefit to taking the hormone, that it would protect our heart," Boggs said.

Researchers soon found that was not true. The study, found in the Journal of the American Medical Association, shows the risk of heart disease is greatest among older women who still have symptoms after 10 years of the onset of menopause.

Dr. Jacques Rossouw, of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute said there is something about hot flashes and night sweats at an older age, which are linked to higher risk and the risk is, then, further increased if those women take hormone therapy. However, women within 10 years of the onset of menopause can safely take estrogen only, not estrogen plus progestin.

"For stroke, it didn't matter. Both estrogen-plus-progestin and estrogen only increased the risk of stroke," she said.

Rossouw said there is still an increased risk of stroke and breast cancer, even in younger women, so women on hormones should be sure to get their blood pressure checked and have regular mammograms. Women who have a uterus should not take estrogen-alone because it increases the risk of uterine cancer.

Boggs said the more information women receive, the better it will be.

"Women, my age, would know that it might not be a good thing to take the hormones beyond that first 10 year period," said Boggs.

Only about 10 percent of women still have hot flashes more than 10 years after menopause. For most women, those symptoms go away after two to three years.

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