A large majority of women will experience a normal level of hot flashes, night sweats, and other symptoms during menopause, but new research from the University of Pittsburgh shows that timing is key.
“These symptoms persist far longer and often start earlier than we previously thought,” said Rebecca Thurston, PhD. “Our research also suggests that for some women, particularly for younger midlife women, menopausal symptoms might mark adverse changes in the blood vessels during midlife that place them at increased risk for heart disease."
Menopause marks the official end of fertility in females, characterized by reduced function of the ovaries due to aging and reduced levels of hormones like estrogen. Menopause most often occurs in women between the ages of 45 and 55, with an average onset age of 51. However, for women who experience menopause symptoms earlier in life than others, there accompanies an increased risk for cardiovascular-related death.
The link between cardiovascular disease and early experience of menopausal symptoms lies in the endothelium, the tissue lining of the blood vessels. For women who develop menopausal symptoms earlier than others, they are more likely to also develop a dysfunctional endothelium.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh conducted a study of 254 postmenopausal women with signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease, all of whom were also participants from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Women’s Ischemia Syndrome Evaluation study. They looked for evidence of a dysfunctional endothelium in the participants using flow-mediated dilation measurements, a non-invasive ultrasound that depicts how the blood vessels dilate in response to pressure on the endothelium.
The results showed that the women who had menopausal symptoms like hot flashes before age 42 were more likely to have lower flow-mediated dilation and higher mortality from heart disease.
“Our research could help us predict the midlife women who might be at increased risk for cardiovascular disease so that we proactively target these women for early prevention strategies," Thurston said.
The recent study was published in the journal Menopause.
Sources: University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
, The North American Menopause Society