A new study published this month in the journal Fertility and Sterility has demonstrated the protective role for HRT against heart disease in women with Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI).
Cardiovascular diseases (heart attacks and strokes) are often thought to be a condition mainly affecting men, but they are also the leading cause of death in women. One of the long-term effects of POI is an increased risk of heart disease compared to women who have the menopause at an average age. This is thought to be due to the lack of estrogen. It has long been presumed that estrogen replacement via HRT helps reduce the risk of heart disease but until now there have been very few studies investigating this in women with POI or early menopause.
In the study in 385 women with POI, the longer the time without estrogen the higher the risk of CVD. Taking HRT was associated with reduced risk, the longer the duration of HRT the greater the effect on reducing heart disease risk. The study highlights the importance that women with POI get diagnosed quickly and so have the opportunity to start HRT without long periods of low estrogen. Furthermore, an arbitrary time limit should not be set for HRT use – women with POI or early menopause should be advised to take HRT at least until the average age of menopause (age 52).
What other things can I do to reduce the risk of heart disease?
There are also many lifestyle changes which can reduce your cardiovascular risk. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a well-balanced diet and doing regular exercise will be very beneficial. Dietary measures to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease include minimizing salt, sugar and saturated fat. A healthy diet should ideally contain 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Omega-3 oils, found in oily fish are also thought to be beneficial. Smoking is a large risk factor for heart disease and so should be avoided.
At the time of diagnosis, your doctor should make an assessment of your cardiovascular risk factors and give you advice how to reduce your future risk. This should include checking your blood pressure, smoking status, weight and height. They may also offer to check your cholesterol levels and sugar levels depending on your personal and family history of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
For more information on the long-term effects of POI see here