Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can slow the decline in lung function in middle-aged women, according to new research presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress, a major conference for the study of lung health.
Evidence from a study that followed 3,713 women for approximately 20 years from the early 1990s to 2010, showed that those who took long-term HRT (for two years or more) performed better in lung function tests than women who never took HRT.
Dr Kai Triebner, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Bergen, Norway, told the congress: “Lung function peaks during the mid-twenties, and from then on it will go down; however, it is possible to identify which factors influence the decline, either by slowing it down or accelerating it. One accelerating factor, for example, is the menopause. Therefore, a key question is whether HRT could, at least partly, counteract it.”
The women’s lung function was measured when they joined the European Community Respiratory Health Survey and again after 20 years. Tests of forced vital capacity (FVC) – which measures the amount of air that can be exhaled from the lungs after taking the deepest breath possible – showed that women who took HRT for two or more years lost an average of 46 ml less of lung volume over the duration of the study, compared with women who never took HRT.
“This will most likely not be clinically significant for healthy women. However, in women who are suffering from airway diseases, the decline in lung function may influence quality of life, as it could lead to an increase in shortness of breath, reduced work capacity and fatigue,” said Dr Triebner.
Importantly the authors do not conclude that there should be a general recommendation for middle-aged women with chronic lung disease to be on HRT as HRT carries some health risks that have to be assessed prior to commencing the trreatment including a small increase in risk of a type of cancer. Further research will need to be undertaken to provide more information on balancing risks for each patient.