Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. It causes one in three deaths in women each year—more than all forms of cancer combined. However, most of us don’t realize the dangers that cardiovascular disease poses for our health.
Heart disease can affect women at any age, and it’s vital that we understand our personal risk factors and family history. According to the American Heart AssociationNearly 45% of women aged 20 or older have some type of cardiovascular disease. Pregnancy and menopause can also increase your risk.
Even though menopause doesn’t cause heart disease, it’s at this point in midlife when our cardiovascular risk factors can accelerate. It is crucial to focus on heart health at this time in our lives.
Published research by the BMJResearch has shown that irregular and long-term periods in adulthood and adolescence are associated with a higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease. So researchers were curious to look at the relationship between heart disease and menstrual cycles during the menopausal transition—and what they found may surprise you.
Take a look at the Study
The length of menstrual cycles tends to get longer as we approach menopause. According to A new study was published in MenopauseThis variation in the cycle length could be a clue about our individual risk of developing coronary disease.
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh collected menstrual data from 428 women, ranging in age from 45 to 52 at the time of enrollment. They did this for up 10 years or until they became post-menopausal. They looked at changes in the length of the cycle during menopause. Then they assessed cardiovascular risk by measuring arterial stiffness.
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According to the study, those who saw an IncreaseThe measures of vascular function were higher for those who had their cycles extended two years before their last menstrual period than those who had stable periods.
These results indicate that differences in cycle length—along with other menopause-related characteristics and health measures—could help predict which menopausal women are at greater or lesser risk of cardiovascular disease. It may also allow doctors to prescribe personalized strategies for preventive medicine.
“Cardiovascular disease is the [number one] killer of women, and the risk significantly increases after midlife, which is why we think that menopause could contribute to this disease,” explained lead author Samar El Khoudary, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology at Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, A University of Pittsburgh news release.
“Menopause is not just a click of a button,”She continued. “It’s a multistage transition where women experience many changes that could put them at higher risk for cardiovascular disease. Change in cycle length, which is linked to hormone levels, is a simple metric that might tell us who is more at risk.”
Analyzing the Findings
The results of the study noted three distinct trajectories in the length of the participants’ menstrual cycles over the course of their menopausal transition. The majority—62%—had stable cycles that didn’t change much before they entered menopause.
About 16% experienced an earlier increase in the length of their cycles (five years prior to their final period), and 22% experienced a late rise (two years prior to their final period).
Women with irregular cycles had significantly lower artery hardness, and thickness. This suggests a lower risk of developing heart disease. The early-increase group had poorer artery health.
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This is surprising considering the research that has been done on the relationship between shorter menstrual cycles and higher risk of developing heart disease. In short-term women, high estrogen levels were suggested to protect the heart. But, these findings may change as we get older.
“These findings are important because they show that we cannot treat women as one group: Women have different menstrual cycle trajectories over the menopause transition, and this trajectory seems to be a marker of vascular health,”El Khoudary observed.
“This information adds to the toolkit that we are developing for clinicians who care for women in midlife to assess cardiovascular disease risk and brings us closer to personalizing prevention strategies.”
El Khoudary and her colleagues hypothesize that hormone levels may be behind the different menstrual cycles in transition to menopause. It’s possible that estrogen is less protective in older women. They plan to track hormone changes to verify this theory in the future.