Effects of hormone therapy on brain structure: A randomized controlled trial

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Abstract

Objective:

To investigate the effects of hormone therapy on brain structure in a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial in recently postmenopausal women.

Methods:

Participants (aged 42–56 years, within 5–36 months past menopause) in the Kronos Early Estrogen Prevention Study were randomized to (1) 0.45 mg/d oral conjugated equine estrogens (CEE), (2) 50 μg/d transdermal 17β-estradiol, or (3) placebo pills and patch for 48 months. Oral progesterone (200 mg/d) was given to active treatment groups for 12 days each month. MRI and cognitive testing were performed in a subset of participants at baseline, and at 18, 36, and 48 months of randomization (n = 95). Changes in whole brain, ventricular, and white matter hyperintensity volumes, and in global cognitive function, were measured.

Results:

Higher rates of ventricular expansion were observed in both the CEE and the 17β-estradiol groups compared to placebo; however, the difference was significant only in the CEE group (p = 0.01). Rates of ventricular expansion correlated with rates of decrease in brain volume (r = −0.58; p ≤ 0.001) and with rates of increase in white matter hyperintensity volume (r = 0.27; p = 0.01) after adjusting for age. The changes were not different between the CEE and 17β-estradiol groups for any of the MRI measures. The change in global cognitive function was not different across the groups.

Conclusions:

Ventricular volumes increased to a greater extent in recently menopausal women who received CEE compared to placebo but without changes in cognitive performance. Because the sample size was small and the follow-up limited to 4 years, the findings should be interpreted with caution and need confirmation.

Classification of evidence:

This study provides Class I evidence that brain ventricular volume increased to a greater extent in recently menopausal women who received oral CEE compared to placebo.

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