Postmenopausal hormone therapy and subclinical cerebrovascular disease: the WHIMS-MRI Study
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OBJECTIVE: The Women's Health Initiative Memory Study (WHIMS) hormone therapy (HT) trials reported that conjugated equine estrogen (CEE) with or without medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA) increases risk for all-cause dementia and global cognitive decline. WHIMS MRI measured subclinical cerebrovascular disease as a possible mechanism to explain cognitive decline reported in WHIMS. METHODS: We contacted 2,345 women at 14 WHIMS sites; scans were completed on 1,424 (61%) and 1,403 were accepted for analysis. The primary outcome measure was total ischemic lesion volume on brain MRI. Mean duration of on-trial HT or placebo was 4 (CEE+MPA) or 5.6 years (CEE-Alone) and scans were conducted an average of 3 (CEE+MPA) or 1.4 years (CEE-Alone) post-trial termination. Cross-sectional analysis of MRI lesions was conducted; general linear models were fitted to assess treatment group differences using analysis of covariance. A (two-tailed) critical value of alpha = 0.05 was used. RESULTS: In women evenly matched within trials at baseline, increased lesion volumes were significantly related to age, smoking, history of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, lower post-trial global cognition scores, and increased incident cases of on- or post-trial mild cognitive impairment or probable dementia. Mean ischemic lesion volumes were slightly larger for the CEE+MPA group vs placebo, except for the basal ganglia, but the differences were not significant. Women assigned to CEE-Alone had similar mean ischemic lesion volumes compared to placebo. CONCLUSIONS: Conjugated equine estrogen-based hormone therapy was not associated with a significant increase in ischemic brain lesion volume relative to placebo. This finding was consistent within each trial and in pooled analyses across trials.
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