An Australian study investigated the link between premature menopause and the risk of women developing multiple health problems in later life.
Menopause (when menstrual periods stop in older women) is a natural part of the aging process. It normally happens between the ages of 45 to 55 years, but if it occurs before the age of 40 it is considered to be premature menopause.
Postmenopausal women are at increased risk of chronic medical conditions
Loss of ovarian hormones (in particular estrogen) can affect many body systems. Postmenopausal women are at increased risk of a range of chronic medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and diabetes. The age at which a woman’s natural menopause occurs is a marker for risk of age-related illnesses. It is known that premature menopause is linked to increased risk of a number of individual chronic conditions. However, there is less information available on whether there is a link between premature menopause and the risk of developing multiple chronic illnesses – known as “multimorbidity”. Researchers at the Centre for Longitudinal and Life Course Research (University of Queensland) in Australia investigated the link between premature menopause and the risks of multimorbidity for women in later life. They recently published their finding in Human Reproduction.
The researchers studied information collected as part of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Woman’s Health (ALSWH), an ongoing study looking at factors affecting women’s health. They analyzed data from a subset of over 5,000 women aged between 45-50 years in 1996. These women had completed health questionnaires in 1996 and then every 3 years until 2016, giving information about their age at menopause and whether they had developed any of 11 chronic conditions (diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, osteoporosis asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression, anxiety, and breast cancer). Multimorbidity is defined as having two or more of these conditions.
Women with premature menopause have an increased risk of multimorbidity
Over the 20-year study period, 2.3% of the 5,000 women reported premature menopause and 55.1% of the group had developed multimorbidity. Women experiencing premature menopause had twice the odds of developing multimorbidity by age 60 and three times the odds of developing multimorbidity during their 60s, as women who experienced menopause aged 50-51. Women with premature menopause also had increased incidence of most of the chronic illnesses individually.
Doctors should screen women with premature menopause to assess disease risks
The findings show that multimorbidity is common in postmenopausal women and that premature menopause is associated with an increased risk of developing multimorbidity. The researchers suggest that health professionals should provide comprehensive screening for women who experience natural premature menopause to assess their risk of multimorbidity. “Our findings also highlight that multmorbidity should be considered as a clinical and public health priority when policy-makers are considering how to control and prevent chronic health problems in women,” commented Prof. Gita Mishra, the senior author of the study. The team is currently looking at ways to target particular risk factors to prevent health problems in women with premature menopause. This includes adjusting diet, exercise, controlling weight, stopping smoking, participating in mentally stimulating activities, and regular screening for cancer and other medical conditions.
Written by Julie McShane, MA MB BS
- Xu XL, Jones M, Mishra GD. Age at natural menopause and development of chronic conditions and multimorbidity: results from an Australian prospective cohort. Human Reproduction, dez259, https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/dez259
- European Society of Human Reporductions and Embryology. Press release, 19 Jan 2020. “Premature menopause increases the risk of multiple health problems in your 60s.” https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-01/esoh-pmi011620.php
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