The incidence of cardiovascular disease is low in healthy premenopausal women and increases with age especially after the menopause; this difference has been attributed to the loss of endogenous estrogen. Atherosclerosis is a chronic inflammatory condition of the vascular wall that may result in an acute clinical event by inducing plaque rupture/ erosion leading to thrombosis. A growing body of evidence suggests that the spectrum of the effects of estrogen on vascular pathophysiology is complex and may depend largely on the state of vascular pathology. In relatively healthy vessels, estrogen prevents the development and progression of atherosclerotic lesions, while in the presence of established atherosclerotic plaques, estrogen fails to inhibit the progression of atherosclerosis or may even trigger cardiovascular events. The mechanisms responsible for this are not yet fully elucidated. It is possible that postmenopausal estrogen/ progestogen therapy may be beneficial in perimenopausal and early menopausal women prior to atherosclerotic plaque formation, but it may not prevent progression of atherosclerotic plaques and acute cardiovascular events in older women with cardiovascular risk factors or women with established atherosclerosis. Various formulations, doses and routes of hormone therapy administration as well as the genetic background of women should also be taken into account when considering the benefit-to-risk ratio of hormone therapy use.
Keywords: Atherosclerosis, hormone therapy, menopause, vascular endothelium, estrogen, estrogen receptor polymorphisms
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