Menopause symptoms linked to a 70% increase in cardiovascular disease

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New research from The University of Queensland has shown that women who have hot flushes and night sweats after menopause are 70% more likely to have heart attacks, angina and strokes.

In a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, School of Public Health PhD student Dr Dongshan Zhu has found women of any age who experience vasomotor symptoms or VMS (hot flushes and night sweats), are more likely to experience non-fatal cardiovascular events.

Dr Zhu used data from the Life course Approach to reproductive health and Chronic disease Events (InterLACE), a major international collaboration of 25 studies of more than 500,000 women around the world.

“Until now, it’s been unclear if VMS is associated with cardiovascular disease, but now we know it to be true. Further, VMS before menopause increases a woman’s chance of cardiovascular events by 40%,” Dr Zhu said.

Dr Zhu also found that the risk of cardiovascular events was more related to the severity of the hot flushes and night sweats rather than the frequency or duration.

“We found that women with severe VMS were more than twice as likely to experience a non-fatal cardiovascular event compared with women who had no symptoms,” he said.

Senior author on the study and InterLACE project leader Professor Gita Mishra said the findings may have important clinical implications.

“This research helps to identify women who are at a higher risk for the development of cardiovascular events and who may need close monitoring in clinical practice,” Professor Mishra said.

In a separate study published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & GynaecologyUQ researchers have found that early menstruation increases the likelihood of VMS decades later at menopause.

Using the InterLACE data the researchers examined 18,000 middle aged women across the UK, USA and Australia.

UQ’s Dr Hsin-Fang Chung said the study showed women who started menstruating aged 11 or younger had a 50% higher risk of experiencing frequent VMS at menopause. The group was compared with women who had their first period at 14 or older.

She said early menstruation previously had been linked to adverse health conditions later in life, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Professor Mishra said obesity played a significant role in the findings.

“Women who experienced early menstruation and were overweight or obese in midlife had a two times greater risk of frequent hot flushes and night sweats, compared with women who experienced their first period aged 14 years or older, and had normal weight. These findings encourage women with early menstruation to engage in health promotion programs, especially weight management in adulthood,” she said.