Hormone therapy in younger women may curb heart disease risk

Healthy women who go through menopause naturally may lower their risk of heart disease if they take hormone therapy in the early years of menopause, according to a new study.

The research is the latest contribution to the longstanding controversy on the merits of hormone therapy after menopause. Previous studies show that hormone therapy in women who are 10 or more years past menopause raises the risk of cardiovascular problems. However, the question of whether hormone therapy may prevent or slow the development of heart disease in younger menopausal women has been a subject of continued debate.

The new study, published this week in the journal Menopause, looked at 654 post-menopausal women who were undergoing coronary angiography to look for evidence of heart disease. The researchers found that use of hormones earlier in menopause was linked to having less plaque in cardiac arteries in women who had a natural menopause. The same benefit was not seen in women who had a surgical menopause (the removal of ovaries). The reason for that difference is unknown.

Some of the benefit seen in the younger women with natural menopause taking hormones is attributable to overall better health, the authors said. But even after controlling for other health factors, a lower incidence of heart disease was apparent.

The study adds to the evidence that the effect of hormone therapy on the heart is dependent on a woman’s age and how much heart disease has already developed.

Since many women could still benefit from hormone therapy to control menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes and night sweats, more research should be conducted to see if younger women could also experience a heart-health benefit, the authors wrote.

Decisions on whether to take hormones after menopause should also take into account the impact of hormones on cancer risk and bone health, doctors note.

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