Women who go through menopause early—at ages 40 to 45—have a higher rate of heart failure, according to a new study published online today in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS). Smoking, current or past, raises the rate even more.
Research already pointed to a relationship between early
menopause and heart disease—usually atherosclerotic heart disease. But
this study from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, is the
first to demonstrate a link with heart failure, the inability of the
heart to pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. It is also the
first large-scale (including more than 22,000 postmenopausal women) and
long-term study linking early menopause and heart disease—made possible
by the Swedish National Patient Register, which captures nearly all
Sweden's hospitalization and outpatient diagnoses; Sweden's Cause of
Death Register; and health surveys of some 90,000 women in the Swedish
The authors' analysis of the data showed that women who went
through menopause naturally at this early age had a rate of heart
failure some 40% higher than women who went through menopause the usual
age between 50 and 54. (The average is 51.) And for every one-year
increase in age at menopause, the rate of heart failure was 2% lower.
Smokers are known to go through menopause an average of one year
earlier than nonsmokers, but that didn't entirely explain the early
menopause-heart failure connection, since women who had smoked earlier
in their lives and quit also had an increased rate of heart failure with
early menopause. What's more, women who smoked, even if they had quit
earlier, had a higher risk of heart failure if they went through
menopause only somewhat early—at ages 46 to 49.
"Menopause, early or late, is always a good time to take more
steps to reduce heart disease risk through exercise, a healthy diet,
weight loss, and quitting smoking, says NAMS Executive Director Margery
Gass, MD. "This thought-provoking study should encourage more research
to find out how early menopause and heart failure are linked. Do the
factors that cause heart failure also cause ovarian failure?"