Early menopause doubles risk of heart problems

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Women who have menopause early have more than twice the risk of cardiovascular trouble, heart attack and stroke later in life, new research released Monday found.

Researchers in this case defined early menopause as coming before the age of 46 either naturally or with the surgical removal of both ovaries.

"It is important for women to know that early menopause is a potential risk factor for cardiovascular disease - the number one killer of American women," said lead author Melissa Wellons, of the University of Alabama, Birmingham, delivered at the Endocrine Society annual meeting in San Diego, California.

Women "can then work harder to improve their modifiable risk factors, such as high cholesterol and blood pressure, by exercising and following a healthy diet," she said.

The National Institutes of Health-funded study was significant in that past research linked early menopause and cardiovascular disease in mostly white and European populations.

But this new research had a multiethnic mix of women, Wellons said. Of 2,500-plus participants, about 40 percent were white, 25 percent were black, 22 percent were Hispanic and 13 percent were Chinese-American, researchers said.

When the study started in July 2000, women were aged 45 to 84. About 28 percent reported early menopause; 446 women had natural menopause and 247 had surgical menopause. Women not past menopause were included in the group that did not have early menopause.

Follow-up tracked whether participants had a cardiovascular disease event, which included a heart attack, nonfatal cardiac arrest (a suddenly stopped heart), angina (chest pain due to narrowed or blocked arteries), probable angina followed by angioplasty or bypass surgery, a stroke or death due to stroke, heart attack or other cardiovascular disease.

None suffered such an event before age 55. But "after that, women who had early menopause were more likely to have had a cardiovascular disease event than women who had not gone through menopause before age 46," reserchers explained.

"Our study is observational; therefore, we cannot conclude that early menopause somehow causes future cardiovascular disease," Wellons said. "However, our findings do support the possible use of age at menopause as a marker of future heart and vascular disease risk."

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