It is well known that HRT is an effective treatment for symptoms of the menopause, such as hot flushes, joint pains and even mood changes. But a lot of women don’t realise that it may have other benefits beyond these troublesome symptoms that can extend into later life. Its effect on the cardiovascular system is one of these potential benefits.
Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is the main cause of death in women, and whilst it is rare in women under 60 the numbers dramatically increase after this age – in other words, women who are postmenopausal. Oestrogen is widely considered to have a protective effect on a woman’s heart and blood vessels, and when levels drop after the menopause this protection is lost.
Re-analysis of data from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) trial has shown that women who commence HRT between the ages of 50-59, or within 10 years of menopause, had significantly lower levels of coronary heart disease events (such as heart attacks) – particularly those who took oestrogen-alone forms of HRT.
Therefore, along with lifestyle interventions – such as maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise and not smoking – HRT may have a protective effect in preventing coronary heart disease, with more benefit seen when it is commenced closer to the start of menopause.
This protective effect is even more important for women who undergo a premature menopause (under 40yrs) and it is recommended that all these women take HRT up to the age of natural menopause, and longer if needed.