Researchers Looking Into Hormone Replacement Therapy
Posted July 2, 2002
RALEIGH, N.C. — Hormone replacement therapy helps women cope with the hot flashes and sleepless nights associated with menopause. It has also been used to protect women's hearts after menopause, but new research has doctors questioning that belief.
Kathy Sullivan went through menopause at age 49. Seven years later, she is still experiencing symptoms.
"I've had the sleep deprivation, hot flashes that you're unsure you're ever going to stop having them," she said.
Nearly 2 million women reach menopause every year. Many of them use hormone therapy to replace the estrogen their body no longer makes. Some with heart disease also take it to reduce their risk of heart attack.
In 1998, the heart and estrogen/progestin replacement study (HERS) found that short-term, it did not protect women with heart disease from heart attacks. Still, there was the belief that over time, HRT could have a protective effect on the heart. Now, a followup to the study finds that is not the case.
"After seven years, there was no benefit to hormone therapy, that is, the risk of heart attack or dying a coronary death was exactly the same in the women who had taken hormones and the women who had taken the placebo," researcher Dr. Deborah Grady said.
Duke University participated in both parts of the HERS trial. Dr. Charles Hammond said it is important to realize that the findings do not apply to the majority of women. Only 6 percent of women who start hormone replacement have heart disease.
"Women in the HERS study by the end of the trial averaged 71 years of age. The average patient that starts HRT is about 51," he said.
For now, most experts agree that HRT is not a good idea for heart patients, but for other women, it is a discussion they should have with their doctor.
The study is in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Research also shows that hormone therapy in women with heart disease increases the rate of gall bladder disease and blood clots in the legs and lungs.