London PMS and Menopause Clinic, 46 Wimpole Street, London W1G8SD, UK.
In spite of the negative press reports following the 2002 Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) publication, women can be reassured that in the correct circumstances, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is beneficial and safe, particularly if treatment is started below the age of 60. Transdermal estradiol is probably safer than oral estrogens as coagulation factors are not induced in the liver and HRT is safer if a minimal duration and dose of progestogen is used. HRT is effective for the treatment of estrogen-deficiency symptoms of flushes, sweats and vaginal dryness. Estrogens prevent osteoporotic fractures and should be first-choice therapy, rather than bisphosphonates. Similarly, HRT protects the intervertebral discs in a way that non-hormonal preparations do not. Estrogens perhaps with the addition of testosterone help certain sorts of reproductive depression, as well as improving energy and libido. There is new evidence to support the previous observational studies that HRT reduces the incidence of heart attacks. Estrogen therapy has a beneficial effect upon collagen, thus improving the texture of the skin, the nails, the intervertebral discs and bone matrix. Discussion of side-effects should not be avoided, particularly the 1% extra lifetime risk of breast cancer. This should be balanced against the fewer heart attacks, fewer deaths and less osteoporotic fractures in those who start HRT below the age of 60.