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Climacteric. 2010 Oct;13(5):429-32. doi: 10.3109/13697137.2010.507111.

Transdermal hormone therapy and the risk of stroke and venous thrombosis.

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Obstetrics and Gynecology, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, Oregon, USA.


Recent case-control and cohort studies have indicated that the transdermal administration of postmenopausal estrogen therapy is not associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular complications, specifically stroke and venous thrombosis. These studies have prompted the clinical promotion of transdermal treatment as 'safer'. There are reasons, however, to be cautious regarding postmenopausal transdermal hormone therapy, especially in regard to stroke. Previous reports linking postmenopausal estrogen therapy and the risk of stroke have not yielded consistent results, finding it difficult to adjust for all confounding factors, including compliance with treatment. Age of the population studies may be a critical issue. Notably, the risk of stroke with oral estrogen was not increased in the Women's Health Initiative when women with prior cardiovascular disease or those older than 60 years were excluded. There does appear to be a dose-response relationship with stroke, similar to that observed with estrogen-progestin contraceptives, and this may be a problem when studying standard doses of transdermal treatment, in that many women receiving transdermal estrogen display lower estrogen blood levels when compared with oral treatment. Clinicians should administer low doses of estrogen to women with risk factors for stroke, and the transdermal route of administration is indicated for women at high risk for venous thrombosis and for older postmenopausal women, especially for women with stroke risk factors. In a recent study, Renoux and colleagues from McGill University in Montreal performed a nested case-control study deriving the data from a cohort of women in the UK General Practice Research Database (GPRD). Current use of oral and transdermal hormone therapy, based on recorded prescriptions, was compared to no use in 15 710 cases and 59 958 controls. The adjusted rate ratio (RR) for stroke for current use of transdermal estrogens, with or without a progestin, was not increased (RR 0.95; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.75-1.20) compared with a significant increase associated with oral estrogen, with or without a progestin (RR 1.28; 95% CI 1.15-1.42). This would amount to an attributal risk of 0.8 additional strokes per 1000 women per year. There was an indication of a dose-response relationship; a significant increase in risk was observed with transdermal estrogen doses greater than 50 microg. The case-control study by Renoux and colleagues is the first major analysis to compare transdermal and oral hormone therapy and conclude that, compared with an increased risk of stroke with oral therapy, there was no increased risk with transdermal treatment at a dose of 50 microg or less. This report is about as strong an observational study as can be achieved. Large numbers of cases (15 710) and controls (59 958) were available for analysis using the well-known UK GPRD. The use of this computerized database precludes selection bias by the investigators and recall bias by the women in the study. The results support the growing conventional wisdom that transdermal therapy at standard doses is free of the cardiovascular risks associated with oral therapy.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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