Hormone Therapy for Menopause Reviewed

MedScape CME

News Author: Laurie Barclay, MD
CME Author: Penny Murata, MD

CME/CE Released: 04/08/2010; Valid for credit through 04/08/2011

April 8, 2010 — Women must be informed of the potential benefits and risks of all treatment options for menopausal symptoms and concerns and should receive individualized care, according to a review of the role of perimenopausal hormone therapy published in the April issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

“With the first publication of the results of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) trial in 2002, the use of HT [hormone therapy] declined dramatically,” write Jan L. Shifren, MD, and Isaac Schiff, MD, from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “Major health concerns of menopausal women include vasomotor symptoms, urogenital atrophy, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, cognition, and mood…. Given recent findings, specifically regarding the effect of the timing of HT initiation on coronary heart disease [CHD] risk, it seems appropriate to reassess the clinician’s approach to menopause in the wake of the recent reanalysis of the WHI.”

Many therapeutic options are currently available for management of quality of life and health concerns in menopausal women. Treatment of vasomotor hot flushes and associated symptoms is the main indication for hormone therapy, which is still the most effective treatment of these symptoms and is currently the only US Food and Drug Administration–approved option. For healthy women with troublesome vasomotor symptoms who begin hormone therapy at the time of menopause, the benefits of hormone therapy generally outweigh the risks.

However, hormone therapy is associated with a heightened risk for coronary heart disease. Based on recent analyses, this higher risk is attributable primarily to older women and to those who reached menopause several years previously. Hormone therapy should not be used to prevent heart disease, based on these analyses. However, this evidence does offer reassurance that hormone therapy can be used safely in otherwise healthy women at the menopausal transition to manage hot flushes and night sweats.

Although hormone therapy may help prevent and treat osteoporosis, it is seldom used solely for this indication alone, particularly if other effective options are well tolerated.

Short-term treatment with hormone therapy is preferred to long-term treatment, in part because of the increased risk for breast cancer associated with extended use. The lowest effective estrogen dose should be given for the shortest duration required because risks for hormone therapy increase with advancing age, time since menopause, and duration of use.

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Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.