October 10, 2012
New Study Finds Hormone Therapy May Reduce Heart Attack Risk
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
According to a study published in the journal BMJ, taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may reduce the risk of developing heart problems.
The researchers found that HRT is not associated with an increased risk of cancer or stroke as several previous studies have claimed, and it also may help reduce the risk of heart attacks.
The team followed 1,000 women over 10 years, half of which were on HRTs. Women who took part in the study were between 45 and 58 years old, and were recently menopausal.
"HRT had significantly reduced risk of mortality, heart failure, or heart attack, without any apparent increase of cancer, deep vein thrombosis or stroke," the researchers wrote in the journal.
However, they cautioned due to the potential time lag, longer time and additional studies may be needed to more accurately assess the potential benefits of HRTs.
HRTs are commonly used to replace female hormones that are no longer produced following menopause, and they can help to reduce symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, insomnia, headaches and irritability.
Over 30 women in the group after 10 years had not taken HRT, and had died or suffered from heart failure or a heart attack, compared to 16 women who had taken the treatment.
They also found that 36 women in the HRT group were treated for cancer compared to 39 who had not taken HRT.
Additionally, the researchers observed after stopping the therapy, women continued to see cardiac health benefits for up to six years.
"This is a very significant piece of research and should reassure the millions of women who turn to hormone therapy for relief of their menopausal symptoms," the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) said in a press release.
"Although the study was not large, the long-term follow-up of 16 years is reassuring as there was no increase in adverse events including cancer."
A previous large study that initiated the discussion concluded that taking HRTs for several years could double a woman's risk of developing breast cancer.
Some experts warn the new study does not mean HRT can be considered safe for now.
"This is a small study that wasn't specifically designed to look at whether using HRT was linked to cancer risk," Dr Claire Knight, from Cancer Research UK, said in a statement. "This, along with other concerns about how the study was conducted, means we cannot be confident about what it says on the subject of breast cancer risk and HRT."
The Department of Health says the benefits of HRT outweigh the risks on a short-term basis. However, if it is taken for longer than 10 years, the patient should discuss it with their doctor.
"Doctors are best placed to decide whether a patient should start HRT, as they can discuss the risks and benefits and take into account each patient's medical history," the department said in a statement.