Research has long demonstrated that hormone therapy helps to reduce the risk of fractures in post-menopausal women. But now new studies have more good news: women undergoing hormone therapy have less risk of developing age-related curvature of the spine.
The study was reported in Menopause, the journal of the North American Menopause Society.
Helping to Prevent Hyperkyphosis
For years many women suffered from a curvature of the spine called hyperkyphosis. Women who suffer from this malady have a distinctive forward curving of the spine, along with a hump located on their back between their shoulder blades called a Dowager’s hump.
This spinal curvature could lead to many disabilities, including poor physical health, increased risk of falls and fractures, and an increased risk of earlier death. It’s all due to a loss of estrogen women experience when going through menopause.
As women age, their hormone production slows and they eventually stop producing estrogen. This leads to an increase in bone loss particularly in the spine, which causes the spine to curve along with a stooped forward posture. Women who had undergone hormone replacement therapy (HRT) were less likely to develop this curvature.
Hormone Therapy and Menopause
Women undergoing a drop in estrogen experience a variety of symptoms long before they display any physical signs of bone loss or curvature of the spine. These symptoms include hot flashes, mood swings, sleep disorders, weight gain, and many other physical problems.
Many women with low bone mass density have risk factors for bone loss and fractures. These risk factors include advanced age, low body weight based on the BMI scale, low calcium and vitamin D intake and smoking. Another factor is genetics – almost 80% of a woman’s bone structure is based on her heredity.
Doctors feel that early menopause is the best time to begin treatment, although there are still many benefits of hormone replacement therapy in preventing osteoporosis even if the treatment is started later. One study that found that women who had early use of hormone therapy were less likely to develop age-related spinal curvature, and their protection against a loss in bone density continued even after stopping the therapy.
The study followed 9,700 women who were aged 65 years and older for a 15-year period, which are a significant number of participants and a long period of time. During the first three years of therapy they had an increase in bone density, which was able to maintain with continued use.
Is Hormone Therapy Right for You?
The research certainly supports undergoing hormone therapy with estrogen in the early stages of menopause, especially if you have any of the risk factors. But the first step is to talk to your healthcare provider to determine if you have osteoporosis and are a candidate for hormone therapy. Osteoporosis is the main reason women develop curvature of the spine.
There are clinical findings that can support the presence of osteoporosis, like having a fracture after a fall, or having a vertebrae fracture even if there wasn’t any trauma. Plus, your doctor may order tests to confirm osteoporosis, including a bone mineral density test.
Once osteoporosis is confirmed, you should discuss the benefits of hormone therapy with your doctor. You certainly don’t want osteoporosis to turn into curvature of the spine. When administered and monitored by experienced professionals, HRT is both safe and effective.