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Menopausal Hormone Therapy: A New Debate

Many Older Women Are Restarting Therapy After Menopausal Symptoms Return
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'Absolutely Desperate' continued...

A 2003 survey of women who stopped taking hormones following the halting of the WHI trial found that a quarter ended up back on the therapy due to a return of bothersome symptoms.

Women who had had hysterectomies or had been on hormone therapy for many years were the most likely to go back on the treatment, as were women who originally began taking hormones for hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms.

The researchers concluded that approximately 30% of women who stop taking hormones develop "bothersome symptoms that might persist."

Unexpected Symptoms

Blanche Turner, who will be 70 this year, was even more surprised than Bayer when she developed severe hot flashes and night sweats after stopping hormone therapy. That is because she had no symptoms when she started the treatment.

"Menopause was a breeze for me," she tells WebMD. "I had no symptoms whatsoever when I entered menopause and only a few noticeable symptoms later on."

Turner began hormone therapy when she was recruited for the WHI trial at age 60. Many postmenopausal women like her were included in the study, which was designed to determine if hormone therapy could help prevent heart disease, osteoporosis, and other conditions related to aging.

Linda Churchill, who is project coordinator for the WHI trial in Worcester, Mass., tells WebMD that it was common for older women who had no menopausal symptoms when they started the treatment to have them when they stopped it.

"It is like the clock was pushed back for them," she says. "We found that it usually took about six months for women to stop having hot flashes and other symptoms when they came off hormone therapy, but some women kept having them."

Surprisingly, a large percentage of the WHI participants who didn't even take hormones, but had instead taken a placebo pill, also developed some troubling symptoms when they stopped treatment.

Is It Menopause?

The finding in a new study that 40% of placebo users had moderate to severe menopausal symptoms raises questions about the basis of some of these symptoms, says researcher Diana Petitti, MD, of Kaiser Permanente Southern California.

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