Hormone therapy: An update on risks and benefits

More than 60 years ago, experts found that giving estrogen to women going through menopause could relieve some of the changes associated with this change of life — including hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness. Later on, replenishing estrogen levels was thought to provide a range of other benefits for women once they no longer produced as much of this hormone naturally. In fact, in the 1980s and ‘90s, doctors often prescribed hormone therapy not only to relieve menopausal symptoms but also to help women prevent chronic conditions such as heart disease and osteoporosis, and improve their quality of life after menopause.

However, that all changed in 2002, when a large clinical trial called Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) reported that older women given a popular therapy combining estrogen and a synthetic form of progesterone (Progestin) had an increased risk of developing heart disease, breast cancer, stroke, and blood clots. As concerns about the health hazards associated with all types of hormone therapy grew, doctors became hesitant in prescribing these medications and many women discontinued taking them.

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