Changes in a woman’s body in the years around menopause could raise the risk for certain health problems. But new research shows that women who experience premature menopause are almost three times more likely to develop chronic health problems in their 60s compared to women who experience menopause in their early 50s. These health issues can range from cardiovascular disease to diabetes, and asthma.
The study published in Human Reproduction followed 5,107 women who were part of a national study of 11,258 Australian women aged 40-45 years old. Each participant was followed from 1996 to 2016.
Participants were required to respond to a survey in 1996 and then answer questionnaires every three years (apart from a two-year interval between the first and second surveys) until 2016. They were asked to report whether they had been diagnosed with or treated for any health problems in the past three years. The list of health issues that they were required to report included 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.
For the study, the age of natural menopause in the women was defined as at least 12 months without monthly bleeding that was not the result of surgical intervention such as removal of the ovaries or hysterectomy.
It was found that during the 20 years of follow-up, 2.3% of women experienced premature menopause and 55% developed multimorbidity. The women who experienced premature menopause were shown to be twice as likely to develop multimorbidity by the age of 60, and three times as likely to develop multimorbidity from the age of 60 onwards.
Multimorbidity Is Common in Mid-Aged Women
Dr. Xiaolin Xu, who conducted the research as part of his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Queensland, said: “We found that 71% of women with premature menopause had developed multimorbidity by the age of 60 compared with 55% of women who experienced menopause at the age of 50-51. In addition, 45% of women with premature menopause had developed multimorbidity in their 60s compared with 40% of women who experienced menopause at the age of 50-51.”
Professor Gita Mishra, the 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.”
Dr. Xu added: “We also found that premature menopause is associated with a higher incidence of individual chronic conditions.”
The researchers caution that the study does not show that premature menopause causes the development of chronic problems, only that there is an association. They stress that this is only the first study to assess the link between premature menopause and the development of multimorbidity in a large group of women and with long-term, prospective follow-up, and more needs to be done.
“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.”