Women may be at greater risk for stroke, heart disease and diabetes during perimenopause, the years leading up to menopause, suggests a study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
The results differed from previous studies that suggested the risks, known as metabolic syndrome, were more likely to increase in the years following menopause, researchers said.
Indicators of metabolic syndrome include high blood fat levels, low levels of “good,” or HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar while fasting, according to the National Institute of Health.
"Previous research showed that after menopause, women were at much greater risk for metabolic syndrome than before menopause began," senior study author Dr. Mark DeBoer, an associate professor of pediatric endocrinology at the University of Virginia, said in a news release. "This latest study indicates that the increased risk observed earlier may be related more to the changes happening as women go through menopause and less to the changes that take place after menopause."
The results showed that the onset of metabolic syndrome is affected by race as well. Researchers found that compared to white women, African-American women experienced a more rapid increase in risk factors as they entered menopause.
Researchers analyzed the health records of 1,750 women who were part of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study— a national review of the causes and effects of the hardening of the arteries— and had previously gone through menopausal changes over a 10-year period.
Together, heart disease and strokes account for one-third of American women’s deaths each year, and 90 percent of women will have one or more risk factors for either disease in their lifetime, according to the American Heart Association.
Study authors said they hope their results would inform health care workers, who in turn could advise lifestyle changes among their patients to reduce their disease risk.
"Of course, you could argue that all of us should be eating better and making sure we're getting enough exercise,” DeBoer said in the release. "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."