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HRT patches much safer than tablets, say experts

Hormone replacement therapy patches may be safer than tablets, researchers said.

Patches containing a low dose of the hormones oestrogen or progesterone, or both, carry less risk of a stroke than if HRT is taken in tablet form, they said.

But the risk increases significantly with high-dose patches -- with women up to 90pc more likely to suffer a stroke than if they are not on HRT.

Women on HRT tablets have a 28pc higher risk of stroke than non-users, regardless of whether their tablets contain a high or low dose of either or both of the hormones.

HRT replaces the female hormones which are lost during the menopause.

Oestrogen regulates periods but also plays an important role in maintaining body temperature and protecting bones.

Oestrogen loss causes many of the symptoms linked to the menopause, including hot flushes, low sex drive, mood changes, bone-thinning and night sweats.

Progesterone is essential for getting the womb ready for pregnancy but its loss does not have the same dramatic effect as the loss of oestrogen.

HRT controls all these symptoms and can help cut the risk of a woman developing osteoporosis and bowel cancer.

However, HRT has been found to slightly increase the risk of stroke, as well as breast, endometrial and ovarian cancer.

A review of trials in 2005 found all types of HRT increased risk of stroke by about a third. HRT is also linked to an increased risk of heart attacks because it increases blood pressure and the possibility of abnormal blood clotting.

The latest study, published online in the British Medical Journal, used data from women aged 50 to 79.

The authors, from the universities of Montreal in Canada and Bremen in Germany, said patches may be safer than tablets, but called for more research.