Menopausal women were overjoyed when hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was first rolled out in the early 20th century. After all, bolstering their declining estrogen levels with synthetic versions helped reduce hot flashes, mood changes and other annoying symptoms of menopausal and postmenopausal life. By the late 20th century, HRT doses were tailored to each woman, included progesterone and lower doses of estrogen, and were viewed as a way to combat osteoporosis. Vast numbers of menopausal women were taking HRT.
Then in 2002, a large hormone trial conducted by the U.S. Women's Health Institute (WHI) was stopped early when it overwhelmingly showedHRT could cause heart disease, stroke, blood clots and breast cancer if taken on a long-term basis. Women worldwide panicked and stopped HRT [source: Bouchez]. But subsequent studies in the U.S. and U.K. say the issue is a bit more complex.
The original WHI study looked at women from age 50 to 79 and lumped their results together. Yet most of HRT's harmful results occurred in the older women studied, not the typical HRT patients -- women in their late 40s or early 50s.In 2012, international experts said HRT actually poses few risks for women in the latter age group [sources: Bouchez, Hope].
Today most physicians recommend using HRT if it's needed, but for the shortest time possible, assuming you have no particular health risks.