Wednesday Bubble: HRT – wait a moment!

Posted by on Jun 16, 2010 in HRT | 0 comments

Back in early May, I wrote a post about the difficulties in stopping hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and the disturbing fact that doctors have no guidelines to follow in order to advise their patients on the best strategies. Today’s Bubble is a perfect companion to that piece, as it addresses the fact that research now shows that women who start HRT and then stop it have a tendency to have significantly greater and more severe  menopausal symptoms than had they never started HRT at all.

Writing in the online edition of Menopause journal, researchers say that among 3,496 postmenopausal women who completed a pre- and post- stopping therapy survey during the Women’s Health Initiative study (a trial that compared estrogen/progestin to placebo and was subsequently halted when HRT was found to double the risk of breast cancer) :

  • Those who had not reported having hot flashes at the start of the study were more than five times as likely to report moderate to severe hot flashes after stopping HRT compared with women with no symptoms who took sugar placebo pills. However, women who had reported having hot flashes at the study’s start were only slightly more likely to report hot flashes after stopping HRT
  • A similar pattern was seen for night sweats, i.e. women who had none at the study’s start were almost twice as likely to report them after stopping HRT
  • Age at stopping HRT was increasingly associated with more joint pain, i.e. the older the woman, the higher the risk for experiencing joint pain

The researchers say that although there have been previous reports of  a surge in vasomotor symptoms like flashes and sweats after stopping HRT, these findings show that estrogen, either alone or with progestin, may promote symptoms when HRT is stopped, even if a woman was not experiencing them when she started therapy. More specifically, the risk for menopausal vasomotor symptoms and joint stiffness is four to seven times more in women with and without prior symptoms when HRT is stopped.

The takeaway message is that it’s not only important to consider the health risks associated with HRT but also, what happens when you stop it. Clearly, even if your symptoms disappear while on HRT, your risk for symptoms after stopping therapy is fairly high.

You should always weigh the risk benefit ratio before starting any type of therapy. HRT may not be worth the trouble. Or the multiple risks.

p.s. More on this study from my friends at Reuters Health.

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