Risk factors for heart disease, diabetes and stroke increase more quickly than expected in the years preceding menopause, according to new research, and the risk factors seem to be more prominent in black women.
Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the Open Access Journal of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, the study contradicts previous research that suggests the risk factors increase in the years after, not before, menopause.
These key risk factors, which are together known as metabolic syndrome, include a large waistline, high blood pressure, a high level of fat in the blood — known as triglycerides, a low level of HDL — also known as the “good” cholesterol, and high blood sugar when fasting.
To investigate further, researchers looked at the records of 1,470 African-American and white women, selecting the participants based on whether they went through menopausal changes over a 10-year period.
The team also developed a formula to assess the severity of metabolic syndrome for each participant, assigning a score to every woman.
After taking into account factors which could affect the findings, including hormone replacement therapy, the results showed that the women experienced a rapid increase in metabolic syndrome severity during the last years of pre-menopause and the transition years to menopause, known as perimenopause.
They also found that in general African-American women had higher rates of metabolic syndrome, particularly high blood pressure and high fasting blood sugar levels, than white women at the beginning of the study, with African-American women also showing a more pronounced increase in metabolic syndrome severity before menopause than white women.
These results help to confirm many previous studies that show African-American women are at greater risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes than white women. However African-American women did experience a slower rate of increase after menopause than white women.
The findings could now be used to help encourage women to make healthier lifestyle choices in an effort to decrease their risk of having a heart attack, stroke or developing diabetes, with Mark DeBoer, a senior author on the study, commenting that, “Of course, you could argue that all of us should be eating better and making sure we’re getting enough exercise. That’s definitely true, but the years transitioning to menopause may represent a ‘teachable moment,’ when patients are especially receptive to learning and putting into practice healthy habits that can make a difference in their cardiovascular disease risk.”