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Hormone therapy and heart disease: Is it all in the timing?

Updated: June 01, 2006

Two trials will test whether there is an "age effect" for hormone therapy.

For years, doctors believed estrogen was the key to protecting older women against heart disease. It started with a basic observation: Heart disease is rare for women before menopause, when estrogen levels are high, but becomes much more common after menopause, when they fall. Findings from long-term observational studies like the Nurses' Health Study added credence to the idea. They showed that women who took hormones after menopause had markedly lower rates of heart disease. In addition, many women said they just felt a whole lot better when they were on postmenopausal hormone therapy. The number of prescriptions soared.

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