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Tuesday, 13 March, 2001, 00:24 GMT
HRT 'may prevent osteoarthritis'
Osteoarthritis is more common and severe for women
Osteoarthritis is more common and severe for women
Hormone replacement therapy may protect against osteoarthritis in the knee by preventing the loss of cartilage, a study has suggested.

A study has shown hormone replacement therapy (HRT) users had almost 8% more cartilage volume than women who did not take the drug.

Osteoarthritis, the most common form of the condition, affects 1.5 million people in the UK, and is a major cause of disability in the over-65s.

It is more common in women than in men.

This study suggests that the use of HRT for more than five years is associated with greater knee cartilage volume

Professor Flavia Cicuttini,
Alfred Hospital
But only one in five postmenopausal women take HRT in the UK because there have been concerns over side effects and benefits the drug may have.

Researchers from Alfred Hospital in Victoria, Australia looked at 81 women, all aged 50 and postmenopausal.

Forty-two of the women had been taking hormone replacement therapy for five years or more.

The others had not used HRT.

Factors including bone size, whether or not they smoked and exercised and size and weight were taken into account by the researchers.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to scan the women and determine how much cartilage they had.

Cartilage loss 'protection'

The study, published in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, said HRT may protect against the development of osteoarthritis by protecting the knee cartilage.

That could also suggest that a lack of oestrogen can affect the joint.

Previous studies have either been inconclusive, or have shown HRT may be linked to a reduction in knee and hip osteoarthritis.

The Australian team say more research is needed to confirm the link.

Professor Flavia Cicuttini, one of the research team, said: "This study suggests that the use of HRT for more than five years is associated with greater knee cartilage volume."

When a joint is affected by osteoarthritis, the cartilage gradually roughens and becomes thin, and the bone underneath thickens.

The bone then grows outwards and fluid develops on the joint, causing it to swell.

The knee is one of the main joints affected.

Once women have been through the menopause, their levels of oestrogen drops. Taking HRT can help reduce symptoms such as hot flushes.

But it is now believed HRT could also prevent bone loss as "oestrogen receptors" are present in joints which are healthy.

A spokeswoman for the Arthritis Research Campaign (ARC) said: "It's been known for a few years that HRT certainly seems to have a significant effect on osteoarthritis of the knee, and this latest research confirms earlier findings."

She highlighted an ARC study published in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases three years ago which showed a 60% reduction in osteoarthritis of the knee in woman who took HRT.

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