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Early Hormone Therapy Safe for Women's Hearts?

Hormone replacement started soon after menopause wasn't linked to hardening of the arteries in study

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The investigators found few differences among groups for build-up of plaque and other markers of heart disease risk. The oral dose group had decreased levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol and increased HDL ("good") cholesterol. But they also had increased triglycerides, another type of blood fat that may increase the risk of heart disease.

The patch group seemed to have better blood sugar levels, the study authors noted.

Hormone replacement therapy has also been linked with increased breast cancer risk, but this study only looked at its effect on heart health.

"Mostly they are confirming what we already know," said Dr. Kellie Flood-Shaffer, division director of obstetrics and gynecology at University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

The research ''seems to have taken more measurements reflecting cardiovascular disease risk than other studies," she said.

"I think they are showing, at least from a vascular standpoint, we can at least keep [heart disease] at bay," she said, at least in the younger, healthy women.

The study findings point to the need to individualize decisions on hormone replacement therapy based on each person's risk factors, she said. For instance, if a woman has a family history of heart disease, high LDL and bothersome symptoms, she might prescribe hormone therapy.

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