Is hormone replacement therapy safe?

When a major study in 2002 announced hormone replacement therapy could lead to heart attacks, hormone use dropped from 30 to 15 percent among post menopausal women.

Now, a new report in the journal Medical Care suggests this decrease may be related to a decrease in heart problems for women 40 to 79 years old. Yet, the director of the women's heart program at Huntington Hospital offers some surprising advice.

"I don't think a woman who is doing well with it needs to come off of it," said Dr. Vishali Rao.

Women take hormones to manage menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes. Scientists found a drop in heart attacks, but no decrease in strokes -- which is odd, considering studies have suggested hormone use increases stroke risk.

"It is a little bit early to draw significant conclusions as to whether we should or should not do this, but it definitely warrants more research in this field," said Dr. Rao.

Critics say other factors such as better treatment and screening of women's heart disease may be in play.

Dr. Vishali Rao says the most important thing a woman can to protect her heart is to know her risk factors and discuss them with her doctor.

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"Women just like men are at risk for everything like high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol and obesity," said Dr. Rao.

She adds women also need to put themselves first.

"They are either taking care of kids, taking care of home trying to balance work as well as household activities. They are constantly running and they don't have a lot of time to think of themselves and their health," said Dr. Rao.

She adds, "The big things they can do is exercise, know their numbers,go to their doctor and quit smoking right away."

Dr. Rao says if you're a woman who's still taking hormones it's important you do have that discussion with your doctor because different products contain varying hormone formulations that may be more beneficial for your heart.

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