Health Risks Continue to be Linked to Early Menopause

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Are you in your early to mid-40s and currently going through (or have already gone through) menopause? If so, you may face an increased risk of a heart attack or stroke (as well as brain aneurysms and rheumatoid arthritis) in comparison to your counterparts who go through this transition later.

    A recent study out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that women who go through the menopausal transition before the age of 46 have a higher risk of a heart attack or stroke as compared to women who go through menopause later in life. Admittedly, this group represents a relatively small percentage of all women. The average age that women reach menopause is 51, according to the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging. Barbara Seaman and Laura Eldridge in their wonderful book, The No-Nonsense Guide to Menopause, note that between 1-2 percent of women will enter menopause before they turn 40 years old while 10 percent will go through the transition before the age of 45.

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    The University of Alabama study analyzed health information collected from surveys of 2,509 women who did not have cardiovascular disease at the beginning of the study. Unlike previous studies that focused on white women alone, this study also included 331 Chinese women, 641 Black women and 550 Hispanic women. The researchers followed the study participants for an average of five years.

    The researchers found that almost 700 of the study participants – or 28 percent – had completed the menopause transition before the age of 46. Some of these women had gone through menopause naturally while others went into early menopause due to having a hysterectomy that removed their uterus. The researchers found that 23 of the study participants who went through early menopause (or 3.3 percent of women in this group) as well as 27 who had not gone through the transition (or 1.5 percent of this group) had a heart attack or cardiac arrest or died from heart disease. The researchers also found that 18 women in the early menopause group (or 2.6 percent of this group) had a stroke during the study. In comparison, one percent (19 women) of the women who went through menopause later in life had a stroke during this time frame.

    This study comes on the heels of two studies that I wrote about in an earlier sharepost this year. The first found that early menopause may be associated with an increased risk of a brain aneurysm. The second study found that going through an early menopausal transition may be associated with a milder form of rheumatoid arthritis.

    The University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers were not sure why early menopause might be related to cardiovascular disease, although they hypothesized that one issue could be the change in estrogen level that results from this transition.  Another hypothesis is that these women have a common trait, such as a genetic association that may be behind early menopause and heart disease risk.

    I also have a theory (although I am not a research scientist). Seaman and Eldridge point to research that offers a link between early menopause and smoking cigarettes. The authors noted that women who smoke often go through menopause approximately 1-2 years before nonsmokers. They also noted that as of the late 1990s, 23 percent of American women were still smoking. Smoking also is well known as a major risk factor for heart disease, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.

  • All of this is to say that if you have gone – or are going – through early menopause, you really should take extra measures to protect your cardiovascular system. That includes a healthy diet, lots of exercise, lowering stress levels as well as stopping smoking.

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    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Grens, K. (2012). Early menopause tied to higher heart disease. Medline Plus.

    National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. (2011). How does smoking affect the heart and blood vessels?

    National Institute on Aging. (2012). Menopause.

    Seaman, B. & Eldridge, B. (2008). The no-nonsense guide to menopause. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Published On: September 07, 2012