Taking hormone replacement therapy shortly after the start of menopause could lower women's risk for heart failure, heart attacks or death. The treatment had not been shown by the study to increase women's likelihood of suffering from cancer, stroke, or deep vein thrombosis either, calling into question previous research on the matter.
The study will be published in the British Medical Journal. Conducted by Danish researchers including Louise Schierback, the study tracked 1,006 women who had recently started menopause. The women were between the ages of 45 and 58 and were tracked for 16 years after the beginning of the study. After a decade, 59 of the 502 patients who had not been taking the therapy had died from heart attacks, heart failure or other causes. That number is nearly double that of the group of 504 women who were taking hormone replacement therapy, which saw 31 women die. The study also found that, even when women stopped the treatment, the benefits persisted for six years.
Many doctors and patients have been wary about hormone replacement therapy for about a decade, when the Million Women Study was published. The aptly titled study, which followed a million women, found that use of the treatment doubled the likelihood that a woman would develop breast cancer. Though later studies found that the Million Women Study's methodology had been flawed and its conclusions unreliable, the damage had already been done; the number of women who used the treatment declined by half.
But Dr. Tobie de Villiers, president of the International Menopause Society, said that the Million Women Study looked at women who started hormone replacement therapy far later in menopause than the Danish study did, which may perhaps account for the difference in findings. The Danish study also followed up with their study participants for a longer length of time.
Hormone replacement therapy reinserts female hormones no longer produced during menopause. The therapy can help with symptoms like hot flashes, insomnia, and irritability.
Women may want to discuss hormone replacement therapy with their doctors. It is suggested that hormone replacement therapy not last for longer than five years, but can be doled out for as long as a decade.