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If you’re a woman going through the menopause and your symptoms are (or are close to) intolerable, then you’re faced with a massive dilemma. To take HRT or not to take HRT? Few stories have prompted such mass discontinuation of medication in recent years as the various HRT-linked-to-numerous-health-problems reports, which subsequently also caused a huge increase in sales of natural menopause remedies (the herbal medicines people must have been whooping with joy). The Women’s Health Initiative study published in 2002 was the landmark report that claimed women taking hormone therapy have an increased risk of ovarian and breast cancer as well as strokes and other health problems. HRT has never really recovered to this day.

The latest study on the subject, published in the British Medical Journal and written by Canadian scientists, has found that women who use low-dose HRT patches, as opposed to hormone therapy in tablet form, had almost exactly the same risk of having a stroke (well, actually, they had a very slightly lower risk) than women who didn’t use any HRT.

Compare that to what they found out about women who take HRT tablets (25-30 percent higher risk of stroke) and high-dose HRT patches (88 percent higher risk of stroke), and those low-dose patches seem quite inviting. There again, there’s still the cancer issue, which I suspect will continue to keep quite a lot of women away from HRT in any format. For instance, when the 2002 study dropped its bombshell and women everywhere started binning their HRT in droves, Professor Valerie Beral, director of the Cancer Research UK Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University, said that drop in HRT usage meant 1,000 fewer breast cancer cases in the UK a year. A figure not to be sniffed at, right?

It all boils down in the end to risk vs benefit, of course. If you suffer from the most awful, debilitating hot flushes (and I’ve heard some truly terrible menopause stories in my time as a journalist) or other symptoms such as sleep problems (usually caused by night sweats), aches and pains and lack of energy, then it may be worth your while trying HRT – at least for a short while (two years is what they recommend these days if you want to avoid the increased risk of cancer etc.). But if you’re a riskfactorphobe, I suspect you’ll put up with the flushes etc, and soldier on with wild yam or some other similar natural menopause remedy.

So while this new study is encouraging in terms of women not having to worry so much about strokes, there’s still a long way to go before they tempt women back to the patch.