July 3, 2010

Early Menopause Ups Heart Risk

Women who go through early menopause – before the age of 46 – may be at double the risk for having a heart attack or stroke.

Researchers at the University of Alabama say that asking a woman at what age she went through menopause may be a good tool to predict her future risk of cardiovascular disease. The results of the study were presented the annual meeting of The Endocrine Society, on June 19, 2010 in San Diego, CA.

The researchers found that women who reported early menopause were twice as likely as others to have any kind of heart disease.

Approximately 2,500 women who were part of the Multi-Ethnic Study for Atherosclerosis were followed in the current study. All women had gone through menopause naturally or surgically (for example, by having their ovaries removed). Early menopause was defined as occurring before the age of 46, and 693 of the study’s participants fell into this category. More women undergoing early menopause were African-American or Hispanic than other ethnicities, and more women who’d reported early menopause went through it because of surgery.

The researchers found that women who reported early menopause were twice as likely as others to have any kind of heart disease, which included “heart attack, resuscitated cardiac arrest, definite angina, probable angina (if followed by revascularization), stroke, stroke death, coronary heart disease death or other atherosclerotic/CVD death," said lead researcher Melissa Wellons in a University news release.

Wellons did point out that it’s important to remember that this study was correlational in nature, so it does not provide concrete evidence of cause and effect. Still, the age of onset of menopause could be an effective marker to help predict a woman’s likelihood of having a cardiovascular event down the road. She says that the findings “will give clinicians a new tool potentially to assess cardiovascular risk... the simple tool of asking when a woman had a hysterectomy or their ovaries removed or when they went through natural menopause.”

The ethnic differences found in the study may also be important for doctors to keep in mind: "Because black and Hispanic women reported more incidence of early menopause, these findings may be particularly helpful and relevant to them," said Wellons. "However, more research still is needed to better understand the underlying mechanisms behind early menopause and cardiovascular disease."

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