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Study Says Hormones May Be Heart Healthy


WebMD Health News

April 4, 2002 -- For years, doctors thought that replacing lost hormones in women after menopause was one of the best ways to prevent heart disease. More recently, studies have suggested this may, in fact, do more harm than good. But in a new study, researchers found that hormones reduced signs of blockage in blood vessels -- and they found this through a mammogram.

On the mammograms, the researchers saw that women who were taking hormone replacement therapy after menopause had less calcium buildup in the arteries in their breasts. Calcium buildup is a sign that a blood vessel is beginning to get clogged.

Accumulating evidence suggests that calcium buildup in blood vessels in the breast may be important as a marker for overall blood vessel disease, according to J. Cox, MD, with the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne, England, and colleagues. Their findings appear in the most recent issue of the Journal of Medical Screening.

As with heart disease and stroke, calcium buildup in the breast increases with age, typically affecting 10% of women in their 40s and almost half of those in their mid-60s.

When Cox's team looked at 4,400 women undergoing mammography, they saw calcium in the breasts in 12% of the women. Interestingly, only 8% of those who were taking hormones had calcium build-up, compared with 14% of those who weren't.

Thus, if hormone replacement can reduce calcium buildup -- and blockage -- in the blood vessels in the breasts, the researchers suggest that hormones may be able to do the same thing in the blood vessels that supply the heart and brain.

The issue surrounding hormones and the heart has still not been settled. At this point, research seems to imply that hormones taken soon after the start of menopause -- and before the development of heart disease -- may help prevent heart disease down the road. However, studies seem to show that starting hormones after developing heart disease may actually increase the risk of a heart attack.

Talk to your doctor to see if hormone replacement is right for you. You and your doctor can weigh the good and bad about hormones in women after menopause and decide if they would be good for your heart.

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