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Early menopause raises risk of string of chronic conditions

Sarah Knapton
Genetic differences which trigger early menopause may also be linked to chronic conditions and the decline in oestrogen may speed up ageing scientists believe - Alamy 

Early menopause triples the chance of women experiencing multiple chronic conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, in their 60s, a study suggests.

Most women will go through the menopause after 50, but the new research suggests that those who experience the change at 40 or younger are at far greater risk of illness and should be screened.

Researchers at the University of Queensland followed more than 5,000 women aged 45 to 50 from 1996 until 2016.

The women reported whether they had been diagnosed with or treated for any of 11 health problems in the past three years: diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, osteoporosis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression, anxiety or breast cancer.

Women were considered to have multimorbidity if they had two or more of these conditions. Some 71 per cent of women with premature menopause had developed multiple chronic illnesses by the age of 60 compared with just 55 per cent of women who experienced menopause at the age of 50-51. 

After the researchers discounted all the other factors which could be responsible, such as obesity, they calculated that early menopause had an even bigger effect, raising the risk by three fold. 

Professor Gita Mishra, director of the Centre and senior author of the paper, said: “Our findings indicate that multimorbidity is common in mid-aged and early-elderly women. 

“Premature menopause is associated with an increased risk of developing multimorbidity, even after adjusting for previous chronic conditions and for possible factors that could affect the results, such as whether or not the women had children, how many, education, body mass index, smoking and physical activity.”

During the 20 years of follow-up, 2.3 per cent of women experienced premature menopause and 55 per cent developed multimorbidity.

The researchers speculate that genetic differences which trigger early menopause may also be linked to chronic conditions. Also the decline in oestrogen production may speed up ageing, triggering diseases earlier.

“Our findings suggest that health professionals should consider providing comprehensive screening and assessment of risk factors when treating women who experience natural premature menopause in order to assess their risk of multimorbidity,” said Prof Mishra. 

“Our findings also highlight that multimorbidity 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.”

The research was published in the journal Human Reproduction