Taking hormone pills for several years after menopause did not shorten older women's lifespan, according to the longest follow-up yet of landmark research that transformed thinking on risks and benefits of a once popular treatment.
The study found the treatment did not lead to early death from any cause.
Women go through menopause when they stop menstruating, typically between ages 45 and 55. "This fundamentally provides reassurance for women during the menopause who are seeking hormone therapy to manage bothersome and disturbing symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats".
The researchers also found that deaths from Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia were significantly lower with estrogen alone than with placebo during 18 years of follow-up, but the use of estrogen plus progestin was not associated with dementia mortality.
Overall, she told HuffPost, the findings should reassure women and their doctors that hormone therapy is a reasonable option for symptomatic women who are in early menopause and in generally good health. But women who took HRT - where these hormones are prescribed - for two or more years lost an average of 46 ml less of lung volume compared with women who never took HRT.
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Younger women in the study appeared to have better survival odds with HRT. "But that is the reason that all-cause mortality is such an important summary measure, since interventions like hormone therapy can have a complex pattern of benefits and risks".
But an 18-year follow-up on these women has shown that there wasn't an increase to risks of death and other disease on those who used the hormones.
One limitation of the study is that the WHI didn't look at different dosages of hormone pills, and the findings may be different for other dosages or different types of therapy such as gels or creams or skin patches.
"Mortality rates are the ultimate "bottom line" when assessing the net effect of a medication on serious and life-threatening health outcomes", Dr. JoAnn Manson, the study's lead author, said in a news release.
The findings were published Tuesday in the United States journal JAMA.
CTV News' medical expert Dr. Marla Shapiro said the latest study is "very reassuring for women" who have been afraid of trying hormone therapy. "The take-home message now is that for the right patient, hormone therapy is safe and effective".