Postmenopausal Hormone Replacement Therapy To Prevent Chronic Conditions: Recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Ann Intern Med. 2002;137:I-48. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-137-4-200208200-00034
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Published: Ann Intern Med. 2002;137(4):I-48.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is a group of health experts that reviews published research and makes recommendations about preventive health care.
Around menopause, decreases in the levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone result in hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and vaginal dryness. Lower hormone levels also increase bone loss and the risk for heart disease. Postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy (HRT) consists of taking estrogen with or without progesterone. Some women take HRT to relieve the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause. Others take it to reduce the risk for osteoporosis (thinning of the bones that can lead to fractures), which is a proven effect of HRT, and some take HRT with the hope of decreasing their chances of heart disease, colon cancer, or dementia. However, the effect of HRT on these conditions has been uncertain. HRT has side effects and does appear to increase the risk for certain diseases such as stroke, blood clots, and breast cancer. It has been unclear whether the potential benefits of postmenopausal HRT to prevent some chronic conditions are worth the associated risks.
The USPSTF reviewed published research to evaluate the benefits and harms of postmenopausal HRT.
The most certain long-term benefit of HRT is the decreased risk for osteoporosis-related fractures. Possible but unproven benefits include reduced risk for dementia. HRT using only estrogen also increases the risk for uterine cancer, but a woman can eliminate this risk by taking progesterone with estrogen. Other negative effects of HRT include blood clots and gallstones. A recent study, the Women's Health Initiative, provided strong evidence that HRT causes small but definite increases in a women's risk for heart disease, stroke, and breast cancer. This study showed that HRT decreases the risk for colon cancer and for osteroporosis-related fractures. Since HRT increases the risk for heart disease and breast cancer, the harms outweigh the benefits for most women.
The USPSTF recommends against women taking HRT for the sole purpose of preventing chronic conditions. The decision about whether to take HRT to reduce the symptoms of menopause will depend on each woman's preferences and personal risk for osteoporosis, heart disease, dementia, blood clots, stroke, and cancer. Women considering taking HRT for any reason should discuss the potential benefits and risks with their doctors.
As better studies become available, the USPSTF may modify these recommendations. These recommendations do not address decisions about whether to use short-term HRT (<5 years) to treat menopausal symptoms or the use of estrogen alone after hysterectomy.
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