Women who choose hormone therapy to treat symptoms of menopause should use the lowest dose and take them for the shortest amount of time.
That's the theme of a new government campaign that aims to help women confused by news about the risks of long-term hormone use - even as hormones remain a mainstay for treating hot flashes.
A year ago, a major study concluded that long-term use of the hormones estrogen and progestin is more dangerous than once thought. The pills significantly increased a woman's risk of a heart attack or stroke beginning in the first year of use - and increased the risk of breast cancer after four years of use.
But hormone therapy does have some benefits. It's considered the most effective treatment for hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal dryness. It's also one option to prevent bone-thinning osteoporosis.
So who should try hormones, at what dose and for how long? Congress told the Food and Drug Administration to design consumer-friendly education materials to help women figure that out.
Tuesday, the FDA unveiled a Web site - http://www.fda.gov/womens/menopause - with hormone information, including a pocket guide to bring to the doctor's office when discussing options. It explains how to weigh the risks and benefits of both the estrogen-progestin combination and estrogen alone, an option only for women who have had hysterectomies.
Women can print out the information; also, FDA has partnered with several women's health groups to distribute it.
"Women who are armed with the appropriate key facts ... can take the right steps to make the highly personal decision about whether menopausal hormone therapy is the right choice for them," said FDA Administrator Mark McClellan.