Undergoing earlier menopause is a sign of a greater burden of age-related damage and dysfunction, so it should not be surprising to see that this correlates with a greater incidence of chronic disease in the years thereafter. People with a greater burden of cell and tissue damage tend to exhibit all of the manifestations of aging earlier than their less damaged peers. These variations in damage burden and consequences from individual to individual are near all the results of lifestyle choices, particularly smoking, weight, and exercise, and environmental factors such as exposure to chronic viral infection. Genetics plays only a small role until very late life, and even then it is outweighed by the choices made and the level of stress that the immune system has suffered over the years.
As life expectancy is now more than 80 years for women in high income countries, a third of a woman’s life is spent after the menopause. It is known already that premature menopause, occurring at the age of 40 or younger, is linked to a number of individual medical problems in later life, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. However, there is little information about whether there is also an association between the time of natural menopause and the development of multiple medical conditions – known as multimorbidity.
Researchers used data on women who had joined the prospective Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health between 1946 and 1951. The women responded to the first survey in 1996 and then answered questionnaires every three years (apart from a two-year interval between the first and second survey) until 2016. The women reported whether they had been diagnosed with or treated for any of 11 health problems in the past three years: diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, osteoporosis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression, anxiety, or breast cancer. Women were considered to have multimorbidity if they had two or more of these conditions.
During the 20 years of follow-up, 2.3% of women experienced premature menopause and 55% developed multimorbidity. Compared with women who experienced menopause at the age of 50-51 years, women with premature menopause were twice as likely to develop multimorbidity by the age of 60, and three times as likely to develop multimorbidity from the age of 60 onwards. “We found that 71% of women with premature menopause had developed multimorbidity by the age of 60 compared with 55% of women who experienced menopause at the age of 50-51. In addition, 45% of women with premature menopause had developed multimorbidity in their 60s compared with 40% of women who experienced menopause at the age of 50-51.”
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