Shorter Menopause May Speed Risk of Heart Disease

Transition within 3 years allows more plaque buildup in arteries, study finds

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THURSDAY, Feb. 5, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Women who have a shorter menopause may be at greater risk for earlier onset of heart disease, a new study says.

In a study of more than 200 middle-aged women, those who completed menopause within three years had more fatty plaque built up in their carotid arteries, putting them at risk for "preclinical atherosclerosis" narrowing of arteries caused by the thickening of their walls.

"We know that more fatty plaque accumulation predicts future heart attacks and strokes, but this is our first venture into this particular line of inquiry. This is an observational study, which doesn't provide specific recommendations for patient evaluation and treatment, but it does raise questions," study principal investigator Dr. C. Noel Bairey Merz, a cardiologist and director of the Women's Heart Center and the Preventive and Rehabilitative Cardiac Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, said in an institute news release.

None of the women had been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease before the study, which measured menopausal status based on hormone levels and physiologic changes rather than subjective factors, such as hot flashes and menstrual cycling estimates.

"The findings suggest that we study this more definitively to possibly determine if women undergoing a more rapid menopause might benefit from early hormone replacement therapy," she said. "In the meantime, physicians could consider using carotid intimal-media thickness measurement or other cardiovascular screenings for women who are rapidly transitioning or who have certain risk factors, such as cigarette smoking or chemotherapy, which are known to accelerate transition through the menopause."

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about atherosclerosis.

SOURCE: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, news release, Jan. 27, 2009

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