Harvard Heart Letter

Cardiovascular consequences of hormone therapy

A large study reinforces the current thinking on hormone therapy after menopause: it doesn't shield women from heart disease and may slightly increase their risk of a stroke.

For decades, doctors believed that hormone therapy could prevent heart disease. But in 2002, findings from the landmark Women's Health Initiative revealed that long-term hormone use boosted heart attack, stroke, and breast cancer risk.

The new study, in the March 10, 2015, issue of Cochrane Library, pooled data from 19 studies involving more than 40,000 women who took hormone therapy for periods ranging from seven months to just over 10 years. Over all, women taking hormone therapy had a slightly higher risk of having a stroke or a blood clot in the legs or lungs. Hormone use offered no protection against nonfatal heart attacks or death from any cause. Some women take hormone therapy to ease hot flashes and other symptoms after menopause, when their natural supply of hormones diminishes. Those who need symptom relief should take the lowest possible dose of hormone for the shortest possible time in early menopause, experts advise. 

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