In a recent study, published in the journal Menopause, researchers saw this connection holds true in a variety of different ethnic backgrounds and is separate from conventional cardiovascular disease risk factors.
Dhananjay Vaidya, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and leader of this study says, "If physicians know a patient has entered menopause before her 46th birthday, they can be extra vigilant in making recommendations and providing treatments to help prevent heart attacks and stroke."
Researchers have also noticed that it is important for women to avoid early menopause as much as possible. For example, smokers can reach menopause two years earlier than non-smokers, but can postpone this by quitting. Findings were seen to be the same when women began menopause early by hysterectomies. Delaying removal of the ovaries if possible, could protect more patients from heart disease and stroke by slowing the onset of menopause. When women enter menopause it is important for health providers to check them thoroughly for cardiovascular risk factors.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women in the United States. Previous research has established a connection between heart disease and stroke and early menopause in white women, but has not ventured into a more diverse population. Vaidya says Hispanic and African-American women experience an earlier onset of menopause than white women.
In this particular study, Vaidya and his colleagues investigated data from 2,509 ethnically diverse women aged 45 to 84 years, starting in 2000 or 2002 and following them until 2008. Of these women, 28 percent entered menopause before the age of 46. While the risk of heart attack and stroke was doubled in this group, the real number of cardiac and stroke events that occurred was minor. Fifty women in this study suffered heart events and 37 had strokes.
Menopause is when the possibility of pregnancy ends for a woman, characterized by slowing hormonal cycles, halted menstruation and egg creation, as well as less estrogen and progesterone production. The onsets and rates of menopause are influenced by factors such as smoking, diet, exercise, and heredity.
In the past, women have often been treated with hormone replacement therapy to help with uncomfortable symptoms of menopause, such as sweating and hot flashes. Use has been limited since clinical trials have showed a correlation between the risk of heart attacks and these hormones in women. This particular study did not detect a role of HRT in early menopause.
"Cardiovascular disease processes and risks start very early in life, even though the heart attacks and strokes happen later in life. Unfortunately, young women are often not targeted for prevention, because cardiovascular disease is thought to be only attacking women in old age. What our study reaffirms is that managing risk factors when women are young will likely prevent or postpone heart attacks and strokes when they age."
Written by Kelly Fitzgerald