January 1, 1996 in Nation/World

Estrogen Pills Cut Death Rate For Women Hormone Dramatically Reduces Cardiovascular Deaths, Study Says

Associated Press

A new study provides strong evidence that taking estrogen hormone pills significantly reduces the rate of death from all causes for post-menopausal women and offers even greater protection against heart attacks and strokes.

The study found that women who took the pills enjoyed a 46 percent reduction in the rate of death from all causes and even greater reductions in the death rate from the leading cardiovascular killers, said Dr. Bruce Ettinger, lead author of the research.

A report on the study is being published today in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Ettinger said the research evaluated the medical histories of 454 women born between 1900 and 1915 and compared the health outcomes of those who had started estrogen hormone replacement therapy with those who did not.

About half of the group, 232, had used estrogen therapy for at least a year starting in 1969. An age-matched group of non-users totaled 222. Only women who were generally healthy at the start of the data collection were selected.

All of the women in the study were members of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program in Oakland, Calif.

Among those women who did not use estrogen therapy, there were 87 deaths from all causes. Among the estrogen users, there were 53 deaths.

“The overall benefit of long-term estrogen use is large and positive,” the study found, noting that women who use this “relatively inexpensive drug can substantially reduce their overall risk of dying prematurely.”

Overall mortality rate for users was 46 percent below that of non-users, said Ettinger, and most of the benefit was connected to preventing heart attacks and strokes, the leading killers of women.

For coronary heart disease, estrogen users had a 60 percent reduction in mortality risk. For other cardiovascular problems, such as stroke, estrogen users had a 73 percent reduction in mortality.

The study also compared the death rate from cancer and from all other causes, and Ettinger said, “There was no statistically significant difference.”

There was a slightly higher rate of breast cancer deaths among estrogen users, he said, but it was offset statistically by a slightly lower rate of deaths from lung cancer.

“What is unique about this study is that it is a long-term observational examination of two groups that are closely matched,” said Ettinger.

Other studies have analyzed the effects of estrogen, but none has followed a group of women for such a long period of time, he said.

Estrogen users in the study started taking the hormone before it was known that the drug had any major health benefits, said Ettinger.

“They were taking the drug back then to treat hot flashes caused by menopause,” he said. Only later did doctors begin to recognize that estrogen had other medical benefits, said Ettinger.

Now, the hormone is being prescribed to treat or prevent a variety of conditions, including osteoporosis, a bone-thinning disorder.

© Copyright 1996 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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