Many women who go through menopause experience the side effects of 'hot flashes', characterised by flushing or perspiration, or waking up in a sweat at night. For years, doctors recommended hormone therapy consisting of estrogen and progestin to relieve these uncomfortable symptoms. Then in 2002 and again in 2004, researchers asked women participants in a large American study to stop taking the hormones because of increased health risks. Now a second phase of the same study says the use of estrogen only is safe for younger women who are within 10 years of the onset of menopause. VOA's Melinda Smith has more information.
A decade ago, Gerrye Boggs was in the beginning phase of menopause. As a participant in the Women's Health Initiative, she agreed to take hormones. "We all thought that there was a benefit to taking the hormone -- that it would protect our hearts," she said.
But during the 15-year study of 27,000 American women, researchers discovered that was not true: that hormones did not protect the heart.
Now in a report that appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association, they say that some women who are closer to the onset of menopause can take the hormone therapy without increasing their risk of heart disease.
Dr. Jacques Rossouw of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in Bethesda, Maryland is the lead author of the study. "These findings are somewhat reassuring to younger women who want to use hormone therapy for relief of severe hot flashes and night sweats because of no increased risk of coronary heart disease and a trend toward a reduced risk of total mortality," he said.
For older women who still experience symptoms 10 years after menopause, Dr. Roussouw says the risk of heart disease is higher with the use of hormones. "There is something about hot flashes and night sweats at an older age, which are linked to higher risk," he said. "And this risk is then further increased if those women take hormone therapy."
Dr. Rossouw and the other researchers emphasize the recommendation for hormone therapy applies only to estrogen, not estrogen plus progestin. "We found that estrogen plus progestin is worse for your heart health than estrogen only," he noted. "For stroke, it did not matter. Both estrogen plus progestin, and estrogen only, increased the risk of stroke."
Other health problems associated with taking hormone therapy can include breast cancer and uterine cancer. So, medical experts recommend that all women weigh the risks of hormone therapy against the benefits.