PhotoWhen a woman goes through menopause may determine her risk for heart attack, according to an assistant professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University.

Dr. Melissa Wellons conducted the research while working at the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB). In looking at more than 2,500 women of all ethnic backgrounds, one fact jumped out.

Within the study, early menopause in European, black, Hispanic and Asian women doubled the risk for cardiovascular disease when compared to groups experiencing menopause later in life.

“This is an observational study, so my colleagues and I can’t conclude that early menopause is the cause of future cardiovascular disease,” Wellons said.

Another reason?

That means there could be another reason that the women suffered cardiovascular problems. But the fact that so many had an early menopause in common can't be dismissed. She said the study is especially important because cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in U.S. women.

“My hope is that getting this message out will motivate women with early menopause to engage in the lifestyle and medical strategies known to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease -- like controlling cholesterol, blood pressure and excess weight and by exercising,” Wellons said.

The study looked at 2,509 women enrolled in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), with 693 reporting either surgical or natural early menopause before age 46. Women with early menopause were more often smokers, had diabetes and had a higher average BMI -- all risk factors for heart trouble.

“But our findings do support the use of age at menopause as a marker of future heart and vascular disease risk. Clinicians should consider asking questions about menopause when collecting a female patient’s medical history.”

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