Women suffer backlash from hormone therapy, study shows

Menopausal symptoms recur in 63% after they stop taking supplements

July 13, 2005|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

Nearly two-thirds of women who use hormone supplements to control menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats and depression suffer a recurrence or a worsening of symptoms once they stop the therapy, according to a study published yesterday.

But many of the 63 percent who had a recurrence were able to ease symptoms with "lifestyle changes, such as drinking more fluids, starting or increasing exercise [and] practicing yoga," said Dr. Jennifer Hays of Houston's Baylor College of Medicine, one of the study's authors.

The results of the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, surprised the authors and might be disheartening to the estimated 2 million American women who pass through menopause each year.

"When we first started looking at the effects of hormone supplementation, we had expected to see dramatic improvements in women's health," Hays said. "We haven't found them."

In fact, for some women, the hormone replacement therapy might be doing more harm than good by triggering symptoms it was supposed to prevent - a kind of "second menopause," Hays said.

Dr. Diana B. Petitti of Kaiser Permanente Southern California in Pasadena, who wrote an accompanying editorial in the journal, speculated that the recurring symptoms might have been caused by the abrupt cessation of treatment and that tapering off might allow women to avoid many problems.

Petitti said the study showed that "we may have seriously overestimated the curative power of hormone therapy."

Hays and her colleagues studied 8,405 women who were part of the Women's Health Initiative, a major study originally designed to demonstrate that hormone replacement with estrogen and progestin therapy reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke.

But when researchers began analyzing the data in 2002, they concluded that the therapy increased the risk of both diseases, as well as breast cancer.

Those findings prompted the Food and Drug Administration to advise that hormone replacements be taken at the lowest possible dose for no more than five years.

About 14 million U.S. women were taking hormone replacement therapy in 2002. After the results were announced, the number fell to the current level of about 11 million.

Most of the women in the latest study stopped taking the hormones when they heard the news. Most were in their 60s and 70s and had been taking the hormones for an average of about 5 1/2 years.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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