There is no timetable for menopause—with perimenopausal symptoms often appearing in a woman’s mid-40s and lasting an average of four years before menstruation ends. These changes affect much more than the reproductive system, with recent research finding the severity of symptoms is tied to vascular aging and other complications.
The study, led by Kerry Hildreth, MD, an assistant professor in geriatric medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, was published online April 11 in Menopause.
The researchers examined 138 women, differentiated by stage of menopause. More severe symptoms—including hot flashes, sleep difficulties and weight gain—were associated with decreased vascular function.
"To our knowledge this was the first study to examine the association of mood, menopausal symptoms and quality of life measures with these key markers of vascular aging in a well-characterized population of women spanning the stages of menopausal transition," according to Hildreth et al.
Hormonal changes during menopause can impact cardiovascular disease risk factors such as high blood pressure. This correlation may lead the accelerated vascular aging and lower quality of life during menopause.
"The menopausal transition is a vulnerable time for women in terms of vascular health," said Hildreth, MD, and colleagues. "Many women also experience menopausal symptoms that can negatively affect their quality of life and can contribute to depression, which is an established risk factor for cardiovascular disease. We investigated whether these symptom and mood aspects of menopause were associated with markers of vascular aging."
The study also examined depression rates among the group, which was two or three times higher than among women in premenopausal phases. The researchers hypothesized irregularities in estrogen production could drop to a new baseline during menopause.
"A better understanding of these aspects of the menopausal transition will be important for developing effective lifestyle and therapeutic interventions to promote psychosocial well-being and cardiovascular health in women," Hildreth et al. said.