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Hormone Therapy Linked to Cardiovascular Risk

February 5th, 2020

Menopause can come with many challenging symptoms, including night sweats, hot flashes, sleep disruption, mood changes, and weight gain. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is often used to help manage these symptoms, but a study by researchers and the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Public Health published in the Journal of the American Heart Association suggests a link between some forms of HRT and accumulation of heart fat, which is a risk for cardiovascular disease.

As part of the Kronos Early Estrogen Prevention Study, known as KEEPS, investigators analyzed data from 474 post-menopausal women ages 42-58 who were followed for four years and assessed for fat accumulation around the heart. Researchers found differences in results depending on how HRT was given. HRT delivered via a skin patch compounded the harmful effects of heart fat accumulation on coronary artery hardening, but women who were prescribed oral HRT were less likely to see increases in heart fat or worsening condition of the arteries.

Lead study author Samar El Khourdary, PhD, MPH, noted that the results were surprising: “The patch is thought to be safer because it’s not systemic, just topical, and it doesn’t have an impact on inflammation or triglyceride levels like oral hormones.”  While she cautions against generalizing these findings too broadly, they do have implications for clinical care: “We cannot treat all menopause hormone therapy types the same. We’re adding to the recognized list of cardiovascular-related effects of menopause hormone therapy by showing a novel cardiovascular risk factor that’s specific to menopausal women also is affected by hormone therapy.”

Interested in research studies about heart health? Visit the Pitt+Me Heart and Circulation page.