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Doctors to women: Ask us about hormone therapy

Only one in 10 middle-aged women thinks hormone replacement therapy is a good thing, but doctors who treat them think it could help many women – if only they’d get up the nerve to ask.

A survey released this week by the Endocrine Society shows 90 percent of doctors would be happy to talk to their patients about menopause, and 73 percent think hormone replacement therapy can be a good thing. But 71 percent of them say they are prescribing hormone replacement therapy (HRT) less often than they were 10 years ago. The reason: a landmark study called the Women’s Health Initiative that showed HRT raises the risk of heart attacks, stroke and breast cancer.

The study, released 10 years ago this week, caused women to drop HRT wholesale -- even though it might help some of them. Women say they are still doubtful about it and the Endocrine Society says a separate survey it commissioned in April confirms this.

 “Nearly every physician participating in the survey said menopausal symptoms have a negative impact on quality of life,” Dr. William Young, president of The Endocrine Society, said in a statement. “It’s important for a woman to know what hormonal and non-hormonal treatment options may be best for them to provide symptom relief,” Young added.

The group, which educates doctors specializing in hormonal conditions from obesity to menopause, asked pollsters Lake Research Partners to survey 424 internal medicine, family practice and OB/GYN specialist doctors. In April the group surveyed 810 women aged 45 to 60.

The doctors who were surveyed said they believe women are uncomfortable: 88 percent of the doctors said patients are unwilling to even consider HRT because of the risks, and 57 percent of OB/GYNs said their patients were confused. And just 11 percent of the women surveyed said they had a favorable view of HRT.

The Endocrine Society, North American Menopause Society and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine issued a joint statement on Monday outlining the risks and benefits of HRT.  “Hormone therapy is an acceptable option for the relatively young (up to age 59 or within 10 years of menopause) and healthy women who are bothered by moderate to severe menopausal symptoms,” it says. “Individualization is key in the decision to use hormone therapy. Consideration should be given to the woman's quality of life priorities as well as her personal risk factors such as age, time since menopause, and her risk of blood clots, heart disease, stroke, and breast cancer.

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