Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has long been used by women to offset the symptoms of menopause. Menopause is a time when a woman’s body is adjusting to lower levels of the reproductive hormones including estrogen. Post-menopausal women sometimes use HRT to reduce the risk of osteoporosis, which is a weakening of the bones. A new study just released by researchers at Rush University Medical Center shows that HRT may also be important in protecting women from brain aneurysms.
An aneurysm is an abnormal blister or bulge in the wall of a blood vessel. Just like the skin of a balloon gets thinner when it is filled with air, the wall of the blood vessel thins at the location of an aneurysm, forming a weak spot. When an aneurysm forms on a blood vessel in the brain, there are often no symptoms until the aneurysm becomes large, leaks blood, or bursts open. If an aneurysm in the brain bursts, it can cause a severe headache, loss of consciousness, signs of a stroke, and possible death. Those who survive a ruptured aneurysm often experience permanent disabilities.
Aneurysms and estrogen
Researchers at Rush University Medical Center recognized a trend in other brain aneurysm studies showing that 70 percent of brain aneurysms occur in post-menopausal women. The average age of these women was 52 years, which corresponds to the average age when most women experience a sudden drop in estrogen levels as they enter menopause. Further study showed that among women who had aneurysms, those who had used some type of hormone therapy had fewer ruptured aneurysms. This included women who used hormone replacement therapy during pre-menopause and those who used oral contraceptives containing estrogen during their child-bearing years. Those who used oral contraceptives for a longer time seemed to receive higher protection.