It’s well known in the medical profession that women going through the menopause are at an increased risk of suffering from depression. Many studies have shown that HRT can be helpful for treating the symptoms associated with depression in this group, but new research has now shown that it could also be used as a prevention tool. It was found during the study that HRT reduced the chances of depression in pre-menopausal women, although it didn’t show any benefits to women in late or post-menopause.
The study, which was carried out by University of Regina in Canada, the University of North Carolina and National Institute for Mental Health in US, looked at the effects of HRT on 172 women between the ages of 45 and 60. It found that women in perimenopause (the “pre-menopausal stage”) who were given HRT were significantly less likely to suffer from depressive symptoms than those who were given a placebo drug. The percentages of women who scored highly on the depressive symptom score set out by the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale were 32% and 17.3% retrospectively.
The researchers also noted that none of the women who took part in the study showed signs of depression before the study. Other factors that were taken into consideration in the year long study included the women’s menopausal status at the start of the study, stressful life events, previous episodes of depression, other symptoms of menopause like hot flushes and previous cases of sexual or physical abuse.
The researchers added that the study highlights the fact that menopausal women “are at high risk for developing clinically significant depressive symptoms” and that this study is the first to show that HRT “prevents this transition-related increase in risk for depressive mood”. They also said medical professionals need to remain “alert to the high risk for clinically significant depressive symptoms” in women going through early menopause and that – if their findings are repeated in a larger study – they should “consider using [HRT] as a prophylactic [protective] treatment in the prevention of clinically significant depressive symptoms” in patients.
It was also noted that although this study shows strong results, it would need to be repeated using a much larger sample of women before it could be routinely used as a treatment option for preventing depression. It’s also important to bear in mind that, when offering this treatment to women, it can cause side effects including light or moderate bleeding. There is also evidence to suggest that it can increase the risk of breast cancer and blood clots, although most experts agree that the benefits of HRT outweigh the potential risks.