Study links early menopause to heart problems

Women who experienced menopause before age 50 were more likely to have a heart attack or stroke before their 60th birthday

According to a new study, hot flashes in younger women may be a sign of emerging vascular dysfunction which could lead to cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in women. The study, from The North American Menopause Society, suggests that women between the ages of 40 and 53 who experience frequent hot flashes may be at a higher risk of developing heart disease.

The age at which a woman experiences menopause affects her risk of having a heart attack or stroke before age 60, a new study finds.

Researchers at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, analyzed 15 observational studies involving more than 300,000 women. Nearly 13,000 of those women had survived a heart attack or stroke after menopause.

Compared with women who went through menopause at age 50 or 51, women who experienced menopause before age 40 — known as premature menopause — were 55% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke before 60.

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The risk of heart problems diminished when women experienced menopause at a later age. With early menopause — age 40 to 44 — women had a 30% greater risk of cardiovascular events; with relatively early menopause — age 45 to 49 — the increased risk was 12%, the study found.

"Heart disease is a leading cause of illness and death for women," senior study author Gita Mishra told Reuters. "These findings will help to identify women at most risk of cardiovascular disease for closer monitoring and earlier diagnosis and even prevention of the disease."

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The researchers acknowledged limitations of their study, including that many of the cardiovascular events were self-reported. Also, hormone replacement therapy after menopause could have had an effect on the results.

Considering earlier menopause has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and sleep problems, Mishra advised women who experience it to “consult with health professionals for regular monitoring of their risk of cardiovascular disease.”

The study was earlier this month in The Lancet Public Health. You can read the full study here.

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