WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hormone replacement therapy can improve the quality of a woman’s life, easing the distress of hot flashes, sleep disturbances and restoring lost sexual functioning, researchers reported on Thursday.
About three out of four women who suffered night sweats and hot flushes said the symptoms vanished after a year of HRT use, the researchers reported in the British Medical Journal.
Half the women, aged 50 to 69 when the study started, received Wyeth’s Prempro, a combined estrogen replacement pill, while the rest got a placebo.
“Combined HRT improves sleep, aches and pains, and sexual functioning,” wrote the researchers, led by Amanda Welton of Britain’s Medical Research Council and Alastair MacLennan of the University of Adelaide in Australia.
“These gains can now be factored in to a woman’s choice to use combined HRT. This benefit must be weighed against the overall short and long-term risks, which must be individualized for women based on years since menopause, medical history, and chosen regimen.”
HRT was popular until 2002 when a Women’s Health Initiative study showed it could raise the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, stroke and other serious conditions.
The findings spurred millions of women to abandon HRT and weighed down the shares of hormone therapy makers like Wyeth.
The “women’s international study of long duration oestrogen after the menopause” or WISDOM was set up to evaluate the long-term benefits and risks of HRT, but was stopped early in 2002 after the Women’s Health Initiative findings.
Welton’s team questioned more than 2,000 of the women after a year on HRT to see what the benefits or drawbacks might be.
“After one year small but significant improvements were observed in three of nine components of the women’s health questionnaire for those taking combined HRT compared with those taking placebo: vasomotor symptoms, sexual functioning, and sleep problems,” they wrote.
“No significant differences in other menopausal symptoms, depression, or overall quality of life were observed at one year.”
Like the women in the Women’s Health Initiative study, many of the women in the WISDOM study were well past menopause when they started HRT. Their average age was nearly 64, more than a dozen years since they entered menopause.
Many experts have said HRT is probably safer for women just beginning menopause, which starts at about an average age of 51 but usually begins causing symptoms years earlier.
The British, Australian and New Zealand researchers said health issues do not have to be life-or-death matters to be important to a patient’s life.
“In many circumstances, quality of survival is as important as quantity,” they wrote.
Most doctors now advise that women use the lowest dose possible of HRT for the shortest possible amount of time to manage the symptoms of menopause.
“The findings are unlikely to impact significantly on the current management of menopausal symptoms, very effectively and safely accomplished with currently used doses of HRT,” said Henry Burger of Australia’s Monash University, a former president of the International Menopause Society.
Editing by Julie Steenhuysen