Until a decade ago, millions of women took hormone therapy at menopause because they thought it would not only help alleviate symptoms but could also lower their risk of heart disease. They believed this because that's what their doctors told them. And their doctors believed it because a number of studies following women on hormone therapy had appeared to show that these women were less likely to have heart attacks or strokes.
The Women's Health Initiative (WHI), a massive federal study, struck down that rationale for hormone therapy. The study was halted early in 2002 because researchers were noticing an increased risk of heart attacks and stroke among women taking hormones. Unlike the earlier studies, which simply followed women through the years, the WHI was the gold standard of scientific studies – a randomized, placebo-controlled double-blind study. This means that neither the researchers nor the participants in the study knew which group was on a placebo and which was taking hormones. That made the analysis of the data as objective as possible.
The bottom line is that doctors now say that women with heart disease should generally not take hormones at menopause. If you're suffering from hot flashes and have heart disease, talk to your doctor about the best way to make your days more comfortable. You may feel better without any medication at all if you make certain lifestyle changes.