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Women who go through the menopause before 46 are twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke
The average age to go through the menopause is 51
15:53 GMT, 28 June 2012
Women who go through menopause before the age of 46 are twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke as women who go through the change later in life, a study has found.
The findings from a diverse group of
U.S. women support results of earlier studies that had only focused on
Early menopause was found to double the risk of stroke and heart attack. Scientists said a genetic link between ovarian function and heart disease could be to blame
Lead author Dr Melissa Wellons, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said women who had the menopause early should make extra efforts to reduce their risk.
'My advice to them would be to get your traditional risk factors checked and do the things that we know, based on evidence, can improve your risk of developing heart disease, like keep your cholesterol in check and keep your blood pressure in check,' she said.
Wellons and her colleagues collected health information through surveys of 2,509 women, including 331 Chinese, 641 black and 550 Hispanic women.
Close to 700 of them, or 28 per cent, had gone through menopause early – before age 46. The average age when women stop having periods is 51 in the U.S and 52 in the UK.
The younger group included women who went through menopause naturally or had a hysterectomy – surgery to remove the uterus – which can cause early menopause.
None of the women had cardiovascular disease at the beginning of the study. Researchers tracked them for an average of five years to see who ended up having a heart attack or stroke.
They found 23 of the women who had gone through menopause early, and 27 who hadn't, suffered a heart attack or cardiac arrest or died from heart disease, according to findings published in the journal Menopause.
That translates to 3.3 per cent of women in the early menopause group and 1.5 percent of the other group.
Similarly, 18 women – or 2.6 per cent – of the early menopause group had a stroke during the study, compared to 19 (one per cent) of women who hit menopause later.
It's not clear why early menopause might be linked to cardiovascular disease. Some scientists have theorised that estrogen could play a role as the hormone drops following the change. However, a Women's Health Initiative study on hormone replacement therapy was stopped early because women taking hormones after menopause were actually found to have a higher risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
'It could be a genetic association, (where) genes that are related to ovarian function may also be associated with cardiovascular disease, and those two things are related but not through a common causal pathway,' Dr Wellons added.
She said more research is needed before doctors can know how to intervene to try to reduce the higher heart disease risk among women with early menopause.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death among U.S. women. Combined with strokes, it is responsible for almost one in three deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.