Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Estrogen: reassuring news

Post-menopausal estrogen therapy does not appear to protect women in their 60s and older from heart disease, but researchers say it may have some protective effect for women in their 50s.

The Women's Health Initiative, which conducted the research, stopped the analysis in March 2004 because of a higher risk of stroke among women taking estrogen. But further examination of the data shows that, at least for women between 50 and 59, the hormone may provide a boost to heart health. Researchers did not examine stroke risk.

Given the new findings, some experts said Food and Drug Administration warnings in package inserts of estrogen pills might be too stringent, though some experts say the study still does not offer a ringing endorsement for prescribing estrogen.

Researchers found that 201 estrogen takers required bypass surgery or angioplasty; had heart attacks, episodes of angina or died from a cardiac problem, compared with 217 on a placebo who had related heart events. Of the more than 10,000 in the study, 1,396 women between 50 and 59, had heart problems so dramatically less frequent that researchers attributed it to the daily dose of estrogen. Thus, there is intriguing evidence that the risks associated with estrogen and estrogen-plus-progestin may be limited to women who start taking the hormones later in life.

The estrogen findings should be seen as reassuring to women considering hormone therapy to relieve hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause.

Another study, recently performed, on estrogen benefits and timing, echoes these current findings. This is good news all around for women who feared estrogen supplementation. However, stroke risk needs further clarification.

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