Hearts And HRT
After menopause, low levels of the sex hormone oestrogen put women at an increased risk of developing heart disease. Because hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is used to alleviate menopausal symptoms by replacing the oestrogen in the body, it's understandable that many doctors expected HRT to prevent heart disease in menopausal and postmenopausal women. That's why, in the 1980s and 1990s, a lot of postmenopausal women were prescribed HRT in an effort to protect their heart health.
Initial research into HRT and heart disease seemed to indicate that this therapy did in fact help to protect women's hearts in the post menopause years. However, more recent studies have found this not to be the case. In fact, the opposite may even be true. Whereas some researchers believe that HRT simply has no benefit for the heart, others maintain that combination HRT (treatment with both progesterone and oestrogen hormones) actually increases a woman's risk of heart problems. The result is that neither combination nor oestrogen-only HRT is recommended as a preventative measure against heart disease.
If your primary motivation for taking HRT, or for considering taking HRT, is to prevent heart disease, you should talk to your GP or cardiologist about other methods. Improving diet, quitting smoking, losing weight and exercising are all methods of reducing blood pressure, and cholesterol, and bringing down your risk of having a heart attack.
Putting It In Perspective
Various studies on HRT in the last number of years have resulted in this treatment getting a lot of bad press. Many women are therefore understandably concerned about taking it. You need to think about whether the symptom alleviating- affects of HRT outweigh the possible risks. If you suffer from severe hot flushes, or are very concerned about osteoporosis, HRT may still be your best option.
You should talk to your doctor about your individual situation, and whether or not your medical history makes you someone whose heart could be negatively affected by HRT. If you already suffer from high blood pressure, or have had heart problems in the past, or have a family history of heart disease, it's unlikely that your doctor will recommend HRT for the treatment of menopause symptoms.
Evidence suggests that there are some postmenopausal women for whom HRT does indeed reduce the heart disease risk. These are women who go through early menopause or premature ovarian failure (who stop menstruating before the age of 40). These women have a particularly high risk of developing coronary heart disease. Studies suggest that younger women in this situation, who receive HRT in the years just after menopause begins, may indeed experience a beneficial effect on their heart health.