Women who suffer longer periods than normal before hitting the menopause ‘may be more likely to suffer from heart disease’
- Women with longer periods two years before menopause had healthier arteries
- However women with longer periods five years before menopause had the worst
- Heart disease is the biggest killer of women in the UK, ending 65 lives per day
Women who suffer longer periods than normal before hitting menopause could be more likely to get heart disease, research suggests.
Experts found women whose cycles lasted longer than expected five years prior to going through ‘the change’ had unhealthier arteries, compared to women who saw their periods barely change.
However, women who had unusually long periods for only two years before reaching the menopause had the heathiest arteries of all.
Academics from the University of Pittsburgh made the claim after analysing data for 428 women between 45 and 52 in the US.
Menopause, which can commonly symptoms such as hot flushes, usually hits women between 44 to 55-years-of-age in the UK. Now a new study suggests the length of the final periods before menopause could carry important clues to the future risk of heart disease the biggest killer of women in the UK (stock image)
WHAT IS THE MENOPAUSE?
Menopause is defined as the changes a woman goes through just before and after she stops her periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally.
Some women go through this time with few, if any, symptoms, around 60 percent experience symptoms resulting in behavioral changes and one in four will suffer severely.
Common symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness leading to discomfort during sex, disrupted sleep, decreased sex drive, problems with memory and concentration and mood swings.
Menopause happens when your ovaries stop producing as much of the hormone oestrogen and no longer release an egg each month.
In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51, according to the NHS.
They looked at whether the women’s periods leading up to the menopause were stable, or if they became longer five years prior to menopause, or two years prior.
Heart disease is the biggest killer of women in the UK, with 24,000 women dying of condition every year. It is also the leading cause of death for women in the US, killing 300,000 women annually.
The average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days but this can vary from woman to woman.
Cycles as short as 21 days or as long 40 are not considered unusual, according to the NHS.
As a woman approaches menopause, periods become less frequent before stopping altogether.
But the exact timing of this transition could provide important clues to an individual woman’s risk of heart disease, according to the research.
The University of Pittsburgh study also measured the thickness and stiffness of the women’s arteries — with thicker and stiffer vessels being a tell-tale sign of poorer heart health.
Of the women, 62 per cent had stable menstrual cycles that did not change in the years before menopause.
Whereas 16 per cent had longer cycles for five years before their final period, and 22 per cent had longer cycles for only two years before their last period.
Women who had an increase in cycle length two years before hitting the menopause had the best arterial health in the study, indicating the a lower risk of heart disease.
Those who had longer cycles for five years had the unhealthiest arteries, according to the study published in the journal Menopause.
They were both compared to women whose periods stayed stable before hitting the menopause.
Researchers suggested hormone changes linked to cycle length could be behind the differing heart disease risks. But they admitted further research was needed into the topic.
Lead author Professor Samar El Khoudary said menopause should not be considered a quick transition, with the body going through different experiences throughout the process.
‘Menopause is not just a click of a button,’ she said.
‘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.’
She added: ‘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.
Women going through the menopause suffer hot flushes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness, as well as mood swings.
While it normally occurs from the age of 45 onwards, some go through menopause before the age 40, a condition called premature menopause.
The cause of early menopause is unknown but it can be triggered by some surgeries and treatments, such as chemotherapy.