One in 10 women enters natural menopause by age 45. Findings of a new analysis, however, suggest that these women have increased odds to develop heart problems and are likely to die younger compared with their counterparts who enter menopause later in life.
Study author Taulant Muka, from the Erasmus University Medical Center in The Netherlands said that the findings suggest that a woman's age at menopause could be a predictor of risk for future cardiovascular problems, which means that women with early onset of menopause could be targeted for proactive strategies to prevent unwanted cardiovascular problems.
Those who reach menopause early should also be screened for other medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia so these disorders can be treated as early as possible.
For the new study, which was published in JAMA Cardiology on Sept. 14, the researchers looked at 32 earlier studies involving over 300,000 women. They compared women who had their last period before reaching 45 years old and those who entered menopause at 45 years or older.
They found that the women who had earlier onset of menopause had 50 percent increased risk of developing coronary heart disease, which can lead to chest pain and heart attack as plaque accumulates on the wall of the arteries.
The researchers also found that early menopause is linked to 13 percent higher risk for cardiovascular death. Death from all causes is also higher in women who had earlier menopause albeit the researchers did not find association between early menopause and stroke risk.
"The findings of this review indicate a higher risk of CHD, CVD mortality, and overall mortality in women who experience premature or early-onset menopause," Muka and colleagues concluded in their report.
The reason why early menopause is tied to increased health risks is not clear but it is possible that earlier loss of ovarian function may set off hormonal changes that can cause inflammation and vascular damage.
The researchers said that the timing of menopause could influence the likelihood of suffering from heart disease and other health conditions through hormones. Menopause can also be considered as a sign of overall aging.
Women typically enter menopause at age 51 but one in 10 women reaches natural menopause at 45 years old. Premature menopause may also be caused by cancer treatments and surgical removal of the ovaries.
Professional societies agree that those who enter menopause early should consider hormone therapy if they are eligible to manage symptoms and protect vascular and bone health.