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New Hormone Therapy Risks

There's been a lot of bad news over the past couple of years about the hormones routinely taken by millions of women after menopause. Now, a report in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association finds there are additional risks for women who are on estrogen-alone therapy.

The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay says the study, which is part of the Women's Health Initiative, found that estrogen-alone therapy increased the risk of stroke in post-menopausal women.

The study also found that there was a significant risk of these women developing deep vein thrombosis, which is a blood clot in a vein -- a very serious condition. Senay says blood clots in the deep veins of the legs, which is where they usually form, require medical evaluation and treatment.

The research found that there was no increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and it also found the therapy had no role in preventing heart disease. So, Senay says, women who are looking to prevent heart disease should seek alternatives. Additionally, it found no effect on the rates of breast or colorectal cancer.

The study also examined how estrogen-alone therapy affects dementia. The Women's Health Initiative is expected to issue those findings very soon. Senay says preliminary data suggest that there was a trend toward increased risk of dementia.

There are some benefits, however, to estrogen-alone therapy. The study found that women on estrogen-alone therapy did have fewer hip fractures. And, it also found that it is relatively safe, at low doses, for treating menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats.

As of July 2003 about 10 million American women were on hormone therapy. The majority -- about 6.7 million -- took just estrogen, the remainder took estrogen plus progestin. Estrogen-alone therapy is a type of hormone replacement normally prescribed for women who have had a hysterectomy.

Since 2003, products containing the estrogen and progestin have had to bear warnings that the hormone combination increases the risk of breast cancer, heart attacks and strokes. Those risks were discovered in a landmark study in 2002 that overturned years of conventional thinking that postmenopausal hormones were generally beneficial.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration now recommends that post-menopausal women preferring hormone therapy for hot flashes or night sweats take the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time. And these women should contact their physician who can gauge their individual risks and benefits.

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