Home Covid News and Updates Elder women at higher COVID-19 death risk, oestrogen levels responsible, Study says

Elder women at higher COVID-19 death risk, oestrogen levels responsible, Study says

by Vaishali Sharma

Oestrogen is a sex hormone that has a role in the development and regulation of the female reproductive system, as well as secondary sex characteristics. According to new research, an older woman’s oestrogen levels may be connected to her risk of dying from COVID-19 infection, with higher levels of the hormone appearing to protect against severe illness. The study was published in the ‘BMJ Open’ open-access journal. According to the researchers, it may be worthwhile to investigate additional hormone treatment to reduce the severity of COVID-19 infection in women who have previously gone through menopause.

Even after controlling for potentially important factors, women appeared to have a lower risk of severe COVID-19 infection than men. This was also the case with other recent major viral illnesses, such as MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). As a result, it’s been proposed that oestrogen may play a part in the gender divide. To learn more, the researchers evaluated the impact of increasing and decreasing oestrogen levels on the severity of COVID-19 infection.

They drew on national data from the Swedish Public Health Agency (all those testing positive for SARS-CoV-2); Statistics Sweden (socioeconomic factors); and the National Board of Health and Welfare (causes of death). In all, 49,853 women were diagnosed with COVID-19 between 4 February and 14 September 2020 in Sweden, 16,693 of whom were aged between 50 and 80.

The study sample included 14,685 women in total: 227 (2 per cent) had been previously diagnosed with breast cancer and were on oestrogen blocker drugs (adjuvant therapy) to curb the risk of cancer recurrence (group 1), and 2535 (17 per cent) were taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to boost their oestrogen levels in a bid to relieve menopausal symptoms (group 2).

Some 11,923 (81 per cent) women acted as the comparison group as they weren’t on any type of treatment, either to enhance or reduce their systemic oestrogen levels. Analysis of all the data showed that compared with no oestrogen treatment, the crude odds of dying from COVID-19 were twice as high among women on oestrogen blockers (group 1), but 54 per cent lower among women on HRT (group 2). After accounting for potentially influential factors, such as age, annual disposable income, educational attainment, and coexisting health conditions, the odds of dying from COVID-19 remained significantly lower (53 per cent) for women on HRT (group 2).

Unsurprisingly, age was significantly associated with the risk of dying from COVID-19, with each extra year associated with 15 per cent greater odds, while every additional coexisting condition increased the odds of death by 13 per cent. And those with the lowest household incomes were nearly 3 times as likely to die as those with the highest.

This was an observational study, and as such, it can’t establish cause. There were no data on the precise doses of HRT or oestrogen blocker drugs or their duration, nor on weight or smoking, while the number of women in group 1 on adjuvant therapy was relatively small. These factors may have been influential. But the researchers concluded, “This study shows an association between oestrogen levels and COVID-19 death. Consequently, drugs increasing oestrogen levels may have a role in therapeutic efforts to alleviate COVID-19 severity in postmenopausal women and could be studied in randomised control trials.”

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