• oestrogen replacement therapy;
  • blood coagulation;
  • venous thrombosis;
  • protein C;
  • antithrombin III

The effects of post-menopausal hormone therapy (HRT) on blood coagulation in elderly women are not well defined. We studied associations of HRT use with levels of natural anticoagulant proteins in a cross-sectional study of 3393 women ≥ 65 years of age participating in the Cardiovascular Health Study. Protein C antigen and antithrombin were measured in all users (n = 230 unopposed oestrogen; 60 oestrogen/progestin) and a comparison group of 196 age- and race-matched non-users. Compared with non-users, oestrogen use was associated with higher protein C (4·80 vs. 4·30 µg/ml, P < 0·01). Results were similar for oestrogen/progestin (P > 0·05). In both user groups, antithrombin was lower than in non-users (109% for each vs. 115% in non-users, P < 0·001). Adjustment for factors related to prescription of HRT and to anticoagulant protein levels had little impact on the results. For antithrombin, associations with HRT were larger for thinner Caucasian women and black women. Venous thrombosis from HRT may be mediated partly by alterations in antithrombin, but not protein C concentrations. This study extends previous observations to older women, the group at highest risk of venous thromboembolism. Studies of HRT-induced alterations in anticoagulant function in relation to the occurrence of thrombosis with HRT are required.