Menopausal hormone therapy not linked to early death

A selection of HRT medication

A selection of HRT medication

Both Dr. Shapiro and the Boston researchers note that the latest study examined the effects of hormone therapies used many years ago, at the start of the WHI study. However, among women who initiated hormone therapy in their 60s and 70s, no effect on death rate was observed.

But about 18 years of follow-up showed that despite those risks, women had similar rates of deaths from heart disease, breast cancer and all other causes as those who took dummy pills.

The Women's Health Initiative (WHI) research completely changed the understanding of the risks and benefits of hormone therapy in 2002 when it linked the treatments involving estrogen plus progestin, and estrogen alone, the most common formulations of hormone therapy, to an increased risk of stroke and breast cancer. These findings provide support for clinical guidelines endorsing the use of hormone therapy for recently menopausal women to manage bothersome hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. But women who took HRT - where these hormones are prescribed - for two or more years lost an average of 46 ml less of lung volume compared with women who never took HRT.

"All women should be assessed at menopause for symptoms; bone health, sexual health and their overall medical condition and then be individualized and we have both hormonal and non-hormonal options for women", said Thacker.

"It's the ultimate bottom line".

'Women want to know - is this medication going to kill me?

The study results at the end of the 18-year follow-up revealed that the death rates from any cause among the women receiving some form of hormone therapy (27.1 per cent) were similar to that of women who took the placebo (27.6 per cent).

The brands studied were Prempro estrogen-progestin pills and Premarin estrogen-only pills.

"In view of the complex balance of benefits and risks of hormone therapy, the all-cause mortality outcome provides an important summary measure, representing the net effect of hormone therapy use for five to seven years on life-threatening outcomes", the authors wrote.

Even so, many women and their doctors remain wary of hormone use.

The researchers found during the five to seven years of treatment, death rates were about 30 percent lower among women aged 50 to 59 when they received hormone therapy than when they received placebo.

Overall, nearly 7,500 women died - about 27% each in the hormone and dummy pill groups.

More research is needed on risks and benefits of other types of hormones including patches, Mason said.

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