January 29, 2009

Quick menopause transition ups heart risk

Women who transition more quickly through menopause are at increased risk for a higher rate of preclinical atherosclerosis, U.S. researchers said.

Principal investigator Dr. C. Noel Bairey Merz -- director of the Women's Heart Center and the Preventive and Rehabilitative Cardiac Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute -- said the study included 203 women between ages 45-60 at the time they entered the study. Fifty-two were pre-menopausal, 20 were perimenopausal and 131 were post-menopausal.

None of the women had been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. They were evaluated when they entered the study and at two 18-month intervals, providing a snapshot over a 3-year period.

Women who transitioned from being pre-menopausal to being fully post-menopausal within three years had more buildup of fatty plaque in their carotid arteries, suggesting that women who transition through menopause rapidly are at greater risk of early development of heart disease.

Evaluations included carotid intimal-media thickness measurements -- non-invasive measure of the progression of atherosclerosis -- and objective measures of menopausal status based on hormone levels and physiologic changes, not hot flashes and estimates of menstrual cycling.

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, the researchers said.