Menopause May Trigger Dementia, Study Says

New research suggests that women with risk factors for heart disease who experience early menopause may have a higher chance of developing memory and thinking problems as they age.

During the transition through menopause, which typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, fluctuating hormone levels can cause women to experience a wide range of symptoms, including hot flashes, mood swings, and brain fog. Some reports suggest that women who enter menopause before age 45 may have an increased risk of dementia due to a drop in estrogen levels.

However, the results of a new study published on April 3 in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, suggest that women who enter menopause before age 49 and have risk factors for cardiovascular disease may be at higher risk of cognitive decline later.

To conduct the research, scientists recruited 8,360 female and 8,360 male participants with an average age of 65 from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging.

The team divided the female participants into three groups based on when menopause occurred. One group included those who reached menopause between ages 35 and 48, another group transitioned between ages 49 and 52, and the third group experienced this life change between ages 53 and 65.

The scientists noted whether the participants had used menopause hormone therapy (MHT) that included estrogen. They also assessed risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and high LDL (bad) cholesterol. In addition, the team looked at whether the participants took blood pressure-lowering medications.

Both male and female participants underwent tests that measured cognitive function at the start and conclusion of the three-year study.

The team found that women with risk factors for heart disease who experienced early menopause had lower cognitive scores at the end of the three-year follow-up compared to male participants and the women in the other two groups.

Specifically, among participants with early menopause, each standard deviation increase in heart disease risk score showed a 0.044 standard deviation decrease in cognitive function scores. In contrast, male participants showed a 0.035 standard deviation decrease in cognitive scores.

The researchers say that MHT use did not impact the findings.

Still, the scientists did not include women who had a hysterectomy and had no information about whether participants had one or both ovaries removed. Moreover, the female participants self-reported when menopause occurred, which could have impacted the results.

Nonetheless, the study's authors say that the findings underscore the need for healthcare providers to take the age when a woman enters menopause and cardiovascular risk factors into account when developing prevention strategies for dementia.

What causes early menopause?

Although scientists can't pinpoint exactly why one woman may enter menopause earlier than another, several factors may play a role, including lifestyle factors, previous surgical procedures, and genetics.

For example, women who have had a hysterectomy with both ovaries removed may experience the end of their menstrual cycles almost immediately. However, while it may not happen right away, having one ovary removed can also lead to menopause at a younger age. In addition, medical treatments such as chemotherapy can impact the age of menopause for some women.

Moreover, smoking, autoimmune diseases, HIV, chronic fatigue syndrome, or a family history of early menopause can impact when a woman experiences this transition.


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