MAY 01, 2007

According to a new analysis of the Women's Health Initiative (WHI), women in their 50s who take hormone therapy need not fear for their hearts.Women in their 60s and 70s who take hormone therapy, however, are more likely to increase their risk of heart disease, especially if they experience hot flashes and night sweats.

The study, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (April 4, 2007), pools data from 2 parts of the government study. One study involved women who had not had hysterectomies and took Prempro (conjugated estrogens/medroxyprogesterone acetate tablets; Wyeth). The second study included women who had had a hysterectomy and took only estrogen.

Based on the findings, the researchers concluded that women in their 50s taking Prempro or estrogen alone had a slightly increased risk of strokes and breast cancer; however, there was no increased risk of heart attacks. Older postmenopausal women (aged 70 to 79) did face an increased risk of heart disease.

The difference was greatest among women who were 60 or older, who were still having hot flashes, and who tended to have more risk factors for heart disease.

The new results are a reversal of the findings from the WHI in 2002 that had many women abandoning hormones during menopause. The study indicated that Prempro increased postmenopausal women's risk for heart attack, stroke, blood clots, and breast cancer after 4 years of treatment on average. Two years later, a parallel study found that estrogen alone raised the risk of stroke, but not heart attacks or breast cancer, after 5 years of treatment on average.