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Hormone therapy controversy raises drug safety issues

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. The history of hormone therapy drugs once thought of as almost magic pills to keep women healthy, vital and young shows why it is so important to conduct research studies to identify the risks and benefits of drugs, say researchers from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

"The hormone therapy debate is one more example of a larger issue: are the medications that doctors prescribe safe, and do the benefits outweigh any risks?" said Michelle Naughton, Ph.D., lead author of an article in the current issue of Journal of Social Issues.

The researchers review the 75-year history of hormone therapy (HT), including the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) research that found increased risk of breast cancer, dementia, heart attacks and strokes in women taking combination hormone therapy and increased risk of strokes in women taking estrogen alone.

Naughton and co-authors Alison Snow Jones, Ph.D., and Sally Shumaker, Ph.D., all from Wake Forest Baptist, examine why there has been so much controversy surrounding the research findings and why many women and physicians are reluctant to accept the "lost promise" of HT.

HT gained popularity in the 1950s and 1960s and is considered the best treatment for hot flashes and night sweats, which affect as many as two-thirds of menopausal women in the United States. But HT was also marketed as a way women could retain a youthful appearance and stave off the aging process and was prescribed for prevention of heart disease and dementia.

What began as a therapy for bothersome menopausal symptoms that dissipate within a couple of years for most women, became a potential long-term therapy for the prevention and treatment of three of the most common health issues for women heart disease, dementia and osteoporosis, write the authors.

"The intent was good," said Naughton, an associate professor of public health sciences. "There was some evidence showing the drugs mi
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Contact: Karen Richardson
krchrdsn@wfubmc.edu
336-716-4453
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center
16-Feb-2005


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