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Research Corner

Study shows link between rapid menopause and earlier onset of heart disease

Women who transition more quickly through menopause are at an increased risk for a higher rate of progression of preclinical atherosclerosis, according to an observational study led by the director of the Women's Heart Center and the Preventive and Rehabilitative Cardiac Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute.

C. Noel Bairey Merz, M.D., is the principal investigator of the observational study that evaluated 203 women. The assessment was part of the Los Angeles Atherosclerosis Study.

"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," Dr. Bairey Merz said. "This is an observational study, which doesn't provide specific recommendations for patient evaluation and treatment, but it does raise questions."

The evaluation included women between the ages of 45 and 60 at the time they entered the study. Of those, 52 were premenopausal, 20 were perimenopausal and 131 were postmenopausal. None of the women had been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. They were evaluated upon entering the study and at two 18-month intervals, providing a snapshot over a three-year period.

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

"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," Dr. Bairey Merz said. "In the meantime, physicians could consider using carotid intimal-media thickness measurement or other cardiovascular screenings for women who are rapidly transitioning through menopause."