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Estrogen may relieve post-menopausal joint pain

New findings from the Women's Health Initiative

Post-menopausal women, who often suffer from joint pain, could find some long-term relief by taking estrogen-only medication, according to a new study based on the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) that was released online today by the journal, Menopause.

Previous studies of estrogen's influence on joint symptoms had produced mixed results, so researchers examined the findings of the WHI, the largest-ever study of the use of hormonal therapy in post-menopausal women. They examined the findings of the women enrolled in the Estrogen-Alone program, in which women who had undergone a hysterectomy received either estrogen or a placebo.

"We found that post-menopausal women who received estrogen-only medication reported significantly lower frequency of joint pain than women who received a placebo," said Rowan T. Chlebowski, MD, PhD, corresponding author of the study and a Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute lead researcher. "Three to five percent more of the women receiving estrogen reported less joint pain than the women receiving a placebo."

Among the 10,739 post-menopausal women enrolled in the Estrogen-alone program, 77% reported they had joint pain and 40% experienced swelling of their joints. After one year of treatment, joint pain frequency was lower among women receiving estrogen-only medication when compared with the placebo group (76.3% vs. 79.2%).

After three years, in a subset of the women in the study, the participants who received estrogen continued to have joint pain less frequently than women who received a placebo (74.2% vs. 79.8%).

"These findings suggest estrogen may provide modest but sustained relief for post-menopausal women who suffer from joint pain," said Dr. Chlebowski. "Women should consult their physicians and balance the potential therapeutic value of estrogen against the available information on risks and benefits of menopausal hormone therapy, including the admonition to use the lowest dose for the shortest duration. Recent follow-up studies from the WHI found the benefits of taking estrogen-only medication could outweigh the risks for about five years."

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