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Postmenopausal hormone therapy associated with higher risk of hearing loss

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Boston, MA — Hearing loss afflicts approximately 48 million Americans and the number is expected to increase as the population ages. Some previous studies suggested that menopause may increase the risk for hearing loss, presumably due to the reduction in circulating estrogen levels, and that postmenopausal hormone therapy might slow hearing decline by 'replacing' estrogen. To investigate the role of menopause and postmenopausal hormone therapy as risk factors for hearing loss, researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital prospectively examined the independent links between menopausal status, oral hormone therapy, and risk of self-reported hearing loss in 80,972 women in the Nurses' Health Study II followed from 1991-2013. The findings are published online May 10, 2017 in Menopause, The Journal of the North American Menopause Society.

During the study period, 23 percent of the participants developed hearing loss. Researchers found no significant overall association between menopausal status and risk of hearing loss, although higher risk was associated with older age at natural menopause. Use of postmenopausal hormone therapy was associated with higher risk of hearing loss, and the risk tended to increase with longer duration of use.

"Many factors contribute to acquired hearing loss, including age, genetics, noise, medical conditions, diet and lifestyle factors," stated Sharon Curhan, MD, ScM, lead author of the paper and a researcher at the Channing Division of Network Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital. "Our research focuses on identifying preventable contributors to hearing loss. Although the role of sex hormones in hearing is complex and incompletely understood, these findings suggest that women who undergo natural menopause at an older age may have a higher risk. In addition, longer duration of postmenopausal hormone therapy use is associated with higher risk. These findings suggest that hearing health may be a consideration for women when evaluating the risks and benefits of hormone therapy," Curhan said.

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The study was funded by grants DC 010811 and UM1 CA76726 from the National Institutes of Health.

Paper cited: Sharon G. Curhan, MD, ScM, et al. "Menopause and postmenopausal hormone therapy and risk of hearing loss," DOI: 10.1097/Menopause, Vol. 24, No. 9, 2017.

Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) is a 793-bed nonprofit teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School and a founding member of Partners HealthCare. BWH has more than 4.2 million annual patient visits and nearly 46,000 inpatient stays, is the largest birthing center in Massachusetts and employs nearly 16,000 people. The Brigham's medical preeminence dates back to 1832, and today that rich history in clinical care is coupled with its national leadership in patient care, quality improvement and patient safety initiatives, and its dedication to research, innovation, community engagement and educating and training the next generation of health care professionals. Through investigation and discovery conducted at its Brigham Research Institute (BRI), BWH is an international leader in basic, clinical and translational research on human diseases, more than 3,000 researchers, including physician-investigators and renowned biomedical scientists and faculty supported by nearly $666 million in funding. For the last 25 years, BWH ranked second in research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) among independent hospitals. BWH is also home to major landmark epidemiologic population studies, including the Nurses' and Physicians' Health Studies and the Women's Health Initiative as well as the TIMI Study Group, one of the premier cardiovascular clinical trials groups. For more information, resources and to follow us on social media, please visit BWH's online newsroom.

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