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Menopause Health Center

Hormone Therapy Relieves Menopause Symptoms

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Feb. 5, 2002 -- Until recently, hormone replacement therapy was widely considered to be the closest thing to the Fountain of Youth for postmenopausal women. Nearly 40% of American women aged 50 to 74 remain on it in the belief that the treatment relieves the symptoms of menopause and protects them against heart disease and bone-thinning osteoporosis.

Are they right? The jury is still out with regard to osteoporosis and heart disease. But new research suggests that hormone therapy does improve quality of life in women who have menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes when they began treatment. The therapy was found to have a negative impact on quality of life, however, in women who started therapy without such symptoms.

"What we know, or think we know, about hormone replacement therapy has certainly shifted over the last few years," Kathryn M. Rexrode, MD, tells WebMD. "Five or 10 years ago, we believed that the benefits of hormone therapy were clear. The evidence increasingly suggests that this needs to be an individualized decision. We are learning that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating menopausal women."

The latest study to weigh in on the benefits of hormone replacement therapy evaluated depression, energy levels, and other quality-of-life variables in a group of postmenopausal women enrolled in the Heart and Estrogen/Progestin Replacement Study (HERS), conducted between 1993 and 1998. Cardiologist Mark A. Hlatky, MD, and colleagues at Stanford University School of Medicine, published their findings Feb. 6 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Roughly 2,800 women were randomized to receive either hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or placebo, and menopausal symptoms were recorded prior to beginning treatment. The mean age of study participants was 67. Women reporting hot flashes or flushes had improved mental health and fewer symptoms of depression when they received HRT, compared with women who had similar symptoms but did not receive the therapy. Those without hot-flash symptoms who received hormone therapy actually had greater declines in physical function and energy levels, compared with women given placebos.

"This therapy is probably doing a lot of good in women who are being treated for symptoms like hot flashes," Hlatky tells WebMD. "But we don't really know right now what it is doing in terms of heart disease prevention. We should know more about that in a few years."

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