Hormone Therapy? Weigh Risks

The latest research in Wednesday's Journal Of The American Medical Association surveyed women who stopped taking combination hormone replacement therapy when the news about risks came to light.

The study shows, reports The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay, that more than half of the older women who took combination hormone therapy for an average of almost six years suffered a recurrence of menopause symptoms, like hot flashes and night sweats, when they stopped the therapy.

Not all the women had the same symptoms or results, but the women most likely to have their symptoms return had the most severe symptoms to begin with. This would make them the most likely to seek hormones for relief.

The study's author says these findings suggest combination therapy is just delaying symptoms rather than eradicating them. More research is needed to see which dosage is the most effective and to see if tapering off the dosage would work better.

The good news is that many women in the study reported success in tackling their symptoms with lifestyle changes, including drinking more fluids, starting or increasing exercise, practicing yoga, meditation or breathing exercises, or using fans or air conditioners.

There are also herbal and natural hormones, but studies show benefits from these have been limited. In most of the studies the placebo effect is almost as strong as the real effect with just about every treatment, including hormone replacement therapy.

Women wondering about whether to take combination therapy for menopause symptoms should consult their doctors about the individual risks and benefits. The possibility of symptoms recurring is a consideration and other strategies may be beneficial as a first line of defense.

Hot flashes and night sweats are two symptoms of menopause that can really affect a woman's quality of life as the natural levels of estrogen decline.

There's no question that hormone replacement therapy, including a therapy combining estrogen and progestin, is an effective way to provide relief. It was once thought that hormones were good for general health as women age.

But in recent years, new evidence shows risks for heart disease, stroke, breast cancer and Alzheimer's disease from long-term combination hormone replacement therapy. Millions of women stopped the therapy as a result.

But the current guidelines suggest hormones may be beneficial if they are taken only for moderate to severe symptoms of menopause and only at the lowest effective dose and for shortest possible time.