Good news for menopausal women: Hormone replacement therapy may save lives

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A decade after a huge federal study called the Women s Health Initiative (WHI) linked hormone replacement therapy (HRT) with higher rates of breast cancer, heart attack and stroke, new data are accumulating to suggest that the treatment actually has some profound benefits.

A recent study of 1,006 Danish women followed for up to 16 years found that HRT cut their risk of heart failure or myocardial infarction by half without increasing their risk of cancer, Dr. Louise Lind Schierbeck and colleagues write in BMJ. There were 15 deaths among the women using HRT, compared to 26 in the group that did not.

ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava calls this an important study, one that replicates earlier findings that the WHI data is not generalizable to younger women. The women in the WHI had an average age of 64. This is good news for women suffering some of the more severe effects of menopause, Dr. Kava says.

In fact, in February, the North American Menopause Society adopted a more flexible approach to HRT, one that takes into account the type and timing of therapy, as well as individual patient history. And according to Dr. JoAnn Manson, professor at Harvard Medical School and leader of the WHI research, The pendulum may have swung too far in the direction away from hormone therapy use. In a younger woman who has hot flashes, night sweats, and impaired quality of life, it is very likely that the benefits of short term hormone therapy will outweigh the risks.