by Dr. C.H. Weaver M.D. updated 1/2020
According to a recent study from researchers in Sweden, women who go through menopause early may have a higher risk of heart failure. These findings, recently published in the journal Menopause, also indicated that this risk is even higher among women who smoke or have smoked.
The North American Menopause Society (menopause.org) defines early, or premature, menopause as: “menopause that occurs at or before the age of 40, which may be the result of genetics, autoimmune disorders, or medical procedures or treatments.” Whatever the cause, women who experience premature menopause lose the benefits of estrogen earlier in life; as a result they’re known to be at greater risk for certain complications as they age, such as osteoporosis and heart disease.
And now, based on these recent findings from Sweden, early menopause may also raise a woman’s risk of heart failure—meaning the heart is no longer able to pump enough blood for the body to function (versus heart disease, an abnormality of the heart). While early menopause has been previously associated with heart disease, this is the first study to link early menopause with heart failure.
The researchers found the relationship between early menopause and heart failure in a study that included over 22,000 postmenopausal women, whose age at natural menopause was recorded and who were followed for heart failure for 15 years. They found that women who experienced early menopause (between ages 40 and 45) had a 40 percent higher incidence of heart failure than women who went through menopause between ages 50 and 54.
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When researchers factored in smoking (past and present), they found that women who smoked and went through early menopause had an even higher risk of heart failure than their counterparts who didn’t smoke. Smoking also increased risk of heart failure for women who went through menopause later than what’s considered early—between ages 46 and 49.
On one hand, the discovery of a link between early menopause and heart failure is very unwelcome news. It’s never encouraging to learn that something we can’t control—such as our age at menopause—can raise our risk for health problems. On the other hand, this news offers us information about something we can do to control our risk of heart failure and other complications: avoid smoking. We can take this data as an encouraging reminder to make healthy choices for now and the future.
Rahman I, Åkesson A, Wolk A. Relationship Between Age at Natural Menopause and Risk of Heart Failure. Menopause [early online publication]. May 12, 2014.