Hormone Therapy May Increase Risk of Gallstones
Doctors are comfortable with the fact that HRT helps relieve symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, and that it does offset the bone-thinning effects of osteoporosis. But the decision to use HRT or not is complicated since some medical research has shown it can increase the risk of breast cancer.
Plus, the jury's still out about HRT's long-term effects in terms of heart disease, he says. A recent groundbreaking study seemed to convince doctors that giving HRT to a woman known to have heart disease is a bad idea, since it can make things worse. But referring to an earlier study, "If women are already on HRT, the decision whether to continue or stop it is unclear," he says.
Two more studies are now looking at how well HRT can prevent heart disease in women who have never had heart problems. Simon adds that researchers have not tested whether using the estrogen skin patch could lead to gallstones, but because estrogens from a skin patch get processed in the body differently, it should not increase gallstone risk.
"So the end of the story isn't written," Simon tells WebMD. "It's just another factor for women to consider when trying to make a decision whether this is the right thing for them to do."
Because many women in the study were obese or had high cholesterol, they are naturally more likely to develop gallstones, says Gabriella Gosman, MD, assistant professor of ob-gyn and reproductive science at the University of Pittsburgh.
"You really can't generalize the results of this study to say they apply to all postmenopausal women," she tells WebMD.
However, she notes that previous studies have shown an even greater risk of developing gallstones with HRT than this current study did: two- to four-times the risk.
Lowering cholesterol, losing weight -- that's what has been proven to prevent gallstones, Gosman says.
As for HRT, Gosman says, "The ob-gyn community is still very committed to the benefits that we believe HRT has for women's long-term health and well-being, for quality of life," and for thought processes. "I think lot of [internal medicine specialists] are taking the other side, saying it's not a good choice."