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Women who hit menopause before 46 twice likely to have heart attack

June 29, 2012 - Health

Women who reach menopause before the age of 46 are twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke as compared women who go through the change later in life, a new study has revealed.

The findings from a diverse group of U.S. women supports results of earlier studies, which had focused only on white women.

Early menopause was found to double the risk of stroke and heart attack.

Lead author Dr Melissa Wellons, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said that women who experienced early menopause 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," the Daily Mail quoted her as saying.

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 percent, had undergone 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 - that can cause early menopause.

None of the women in the group 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 that 23 women who had gone through menopause early, and 27 who hadn't, suffered a heart attack or cardiac arrest or died from heart disease.

Similarly, 18 women - or 2.6 percent - of the early menopause group had a stroke during the study, as compared to 19 (one percent) 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.

The findings were published in the journal Menopause.


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