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Hidden Dangers of Hormone Replacement Therapy

-- New studies suggest that hormone replacement therapy may not be as good for a woman's heart as we previously thought.

On Thursday's edition of The Early Show, Dr. Bernadine Healy reported from Washington to help us make sense of the latest findings.

Study Findings

The female hormones estrogen and progesterone decline after menopause, and it has long been thought that replacing them by taking them in pill form is beneficial to the heart. Now, two new studies suggest that the therapy is far from a heart disease cure-all. One showed that estrogen therapy does not prevent heart disease from getting worse. In other words once you have it, hormones won't stop it or reverse it. And the latest study suggests that there is a small but increased risk of having a heart attack, a stroke or a blood clot in the first two years of estrogen replacement therapy.

Is hormone replacement therapy not good for a woman's heart at all?
The jury is still out and conventional wisdom supports the idea that estrogen is good for the heart in the long term. There is a large body of evidence to support the theory and there are important ongoing studies to measure the long-term benefits. And don't forget that hormone replacement therapy is widely prescribed for relief of a number of other health problems for women.

What Are The Benefits?

Hormone replacement therapy helps relieve symptoms of menopause, reduce the risk of osteoporosis, may possibly reduce the risk of heart disease and there is some evidence that may even help prevent Alzheimer's disease.

What Are The Risks?

The drawbacks are a small but increased risk of breast cancer, and as we have mentioned a small but increased risk of a heart attack, a stroke or blood clot in the first two years.

Take 'Em Or Leave 'Em?

The pros and cons need to be talked over with your doctor. Depending on the reasons for taking hormones, your general health and your family health risks, you may want to consider other options. If you are taking it for relief of menopause symptoms alone, that's a shorter term of treatment for a few years and probably won't result in as great a risk of drawbacks as the 10-year treatment necessary to provide osteoporosis benefits or potential heart disease prevention.
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