Menopausal symptoms and treatment-related effects of estrogen and progestin in the women's health initiative

Vanessa M. Barnabei, Barbara B. Cochrane, Aaron K. Aragaki, Ingrid Nygaard, R. Stan Williams, Peter G. McGovern, Ronald L. Young, Ellen C. Wells, Mary Jo O'Sullivan, Bertha Chen, Robert Schenken, Susan R. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

223 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: To estimate the effects of estrogen plus progestin (E+P) therapy on menopausal symptoms, vaginal bleeding, gynecologic surgery rates, and treatment-related adverse effects in postmenopausal women. METHODS: Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 16,608 postmenopausal women, ages 50-79 (mean ± standard deviation 63.3 ± 7.1) years, with intact uterus, randomized to one tablet per day containing 0.625 mg conjugated equine estrogens plus 2.5 mg medroxyprogesterone acetate (n = 8,506) or placebo (n = 8,102), and followed for a mean of 5.6 years. Change in symptoms and treatment-related effects were analyzed at year 1 in all participants. Bleeding and gynecologic surgery rates were analyzed through study close-out. RESULTS: Baseline symptoms did not differ between the treatment groups. More women assigned to E+P than placebo reported relief of hot flushes (85.7% versus 57.7%, respectively; odds ratio 4.40; 95% confidence interval 3.40-5.71), night sweats (77.6% versus 57.4%; 2.58; 2.04-3.26), vaginal or genital dryness (74.1% versus 54.6%; 2.40; 1.90-3.02), joint pain or stiffness (47.1% versus 38.4%; 1.43; 1.24 -1.64), and general aches or pains (49.3% versus 43.7%; 1.25; 1.08-1.44). Women asymptomatic at baseline who were assigned to E+P more often developed breast tenderness (9.3% versus 2.4%, respectively; 4.26; 3.59-5.04), vaginal or genital discharge (4.1% versus 1.0%; 4.47; 3.44-5.81), vaginal or genital irritation (4.2% versus 2.8%; 1.52; 1.27-1.81), and headaches (5.8% versus 4.7%; 1.26; 1.08-1.46) than women on placebo. Estrogen plus progestin treatment prevented the onset of new musculoskeletal symptoms. Vaginal bleeding was reported by 51% of women on E+P and 5% of women on placebo at 6 months; most bleeding was reported as spotting. Gynecologic surgeries (hysterectomy and dilation and curettage) were performed more frequently in women assigned to E+P (3.1% versus 2.5% for hysterectomy, hazard ratio = 1.23, P = .026; 5.4% versus 2.4% for dilation and curettage, hazard ratio = 2.23, P < .001). CONCLUSION: Estrogen plus progestin relieved some menopausal symptoms, such as vasomotor symptoms and vaginal or genital dryness, but contributed to treatment-related effects, such as bleeding, breast tenderness, and an increased likelihood of gynecologic surgery.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1063-1073
Number of pages11
JournalObstetrics and Gynecology
Issue number5 I
StatePublished - May 1 2005
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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