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October 23, 2000

The Heart and Estrogen/Progestin Replacement Study Revisited: Hormone Replacement Therapy Produced Net Harm, Consistent With the Observational Data

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Cardiology, Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, Ontario.

Arch Intern Med. 2000;160(19):2897-2900. doi:10.1001/archinte.160.19.2897

Lower coronary event rates in women receiving hormone replacement therapy (HRT) have led to a presumption of benefit. The Heart and Estrogen/Progestin Replacement Study, a large randomized trial, observed a 1.4% first year excess of coronary events, well beyond the plausible play of chance on the expected effect. Over the duration of the study, event totals were similar, but patients treated with HRT experienced them earlier, with a net loss of patient-months of event-free survival. The point at which the lower event rate in hormone-treated patients would fully repay the first year loss, with constant rates, is almost double the trial duration (of 4.1 years). Since patients in the trial were preselected for satisfactory adherence to therapy, the net benefit in practice is likely to be even less. Had the patients in the Heart and Estrogen/Progestin Replacement Study been recruited to an observational study at various intervals over the first 5 years after starting HRT, the apparent risk reduction over 5 years would have been between 21% and 34%. A previous meta-analysis of trials of HRT for other indications also shows net harm. Women with or at high risk of coronary heart disease should not start HRT. There is a risk that women without coronary heart disease might experience even greater net harm from HRT. The late benefit is necessarily limited, as it cannot exceed the event rate. The mechanism of the early loss is unknown; if it were reduced proportionately less than the late benefit, considerable net harm could result.