Coronary heart disease in menopausal women: Implications of primary and secondary prevention trials of hormones.

Maturitas. 2005 May 16;51(1):51-63.

Rossouw JE.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892-7966, USA. 

In direct contrast to the observational studies, both primary and secondary prevention trials of female reproductive hormones have found no benefit for coronary heart disease (CHD). Basic science studies have elucidated several mechanisms by which estrogen may improve coronary arterial physiology and prevent pathology, but have also found mechanisms by which estrogen might increase coagulation or inflammation, or might trigger coronary events in advanced lesions. Animal studies suggest that hormones may retard early atherosclerosis, while both animal studies and human angiographic trials are conclusive that hormones do not retard progression of raised lesions. Hormone use in the primary prevention observational studies would mostly have started at the age of menopause, in women whose arteries on average would be closer to normal than those of women in the clinical trials. One hypothesis worthy of further study is that estrogen may have a beneficial effect in normal or near-normal arteries, but the opposite effect in the presence of established atherosclerosis. However, at the average age of menopause, a substantial proportion of women has raised lesions, and a smaller proportion already has advanced lesions. Also, the apparent benefit of hormone use was found in secondary prevention observational studies, i.e., in women with compromised arteries. It is likely that uncorrected biases in the observational studies lead to an overestimation of any benefit of hormone use. On the other hand, endogenous estradiol may be responsible for the later onset of coronary disease in women compared to men; if so, then the appropriate test of the estrogen hypothesis would employ transdermal estradiol in a young population of menopausal women. Hormones are not indicated for the prevention of CHD, particularly in the light of the increased risk for stroke and venous thrombosis. Their use for other indications (menopausal symptoms, osteoporosis) needs to be tempered by the risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD).