Premature Menopause a 'Warning Sign' for Greater ASCVD Risk

Richard Mark Kirkner

September 20, 2021

Premature menopause is well known to be linked to cardiovascular disease in women, but it may not carry as much weight as more traditional cardiovascular risk factors in determining a patient's 10-year risk of having a heart attack or stroke in this population, a cohort study that evaluated the veracity of premature menopause found.

Premature menopause can serve as a "marker or warning sign" that cardiologists should pay closer attention to traditional atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) risk factors, lead study author Sadiya S. Khan, MD, MS, said in an interview. "When we looked at the addition of premature menopause into the risk-prediction equation, we did not see that it meaningfully improved the ability of the risk predictions of pooled cohort equations [PCEs] to identify who developed cardiovascular disease," said Khan, a cardiologist at Northwestern University, Chicago.

The cohort study included 5,466 Black women and 10,584 White women from seven U.S. population-based cohorts, including the Women's Health Initiative, of whom 951 and 1,039, respectively, self-reported early menopause. The cohort study researchers noted that the 2019 American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association guideline for prevention of CVD acknowledged premature menopause as risk-enhancing factor in the CVD assessment in women younger than 40.

The cohort study found that Black women had almost twice the rate of premature menopause than White women, 17.4% and 9.8%, respectively. And it found that premature menopause was significantly linked with ASCVD in both populations independent of traditional risk factors — a 24% greater risk for Black women and 28% greater risk for White women.

"Surprising" Finding

However, when premature menopause was added to the pooled cohort equations per the 2013 ACC/AHA guideline, the researchers found no incremental benefit, a finding Khan called "really surprising to us."

She added, "If we look at the differences in the characteristics of women who have premature menopause, compared with those who didn't, there were slight differences in terms of higher blood pressure, higher body mass index, and slightly higher glucose. So maybe what we're seeing — and this is more speculative — is that risk factors are developing after early menopause, and the focus should be earlier in the patient's life course to try to prevent hypertension, diabetes, and obesity."

Khan emphasized that the findings don't obviate the value of premature menopause in assessing ASCVD risk in women. "We still know that this is an important marker for women and their risk for heart disease, and it should be a warning sign to pay close attention to those other risk factors and what other preventive measures can be taken," she said.

Christie Ballantyne, MD, said it's important to note that the study did not dismiss the relevance of premature menopause in shared decision-making for postmenopausal women. "It certainly doesn't mean that premature menopause is not a risk," Ballantyne said in an interview. "Premature menopause may cause a worsening of traditional CVD risk factors, so that's one possible explanation for it. The other possible explanation is that women with worse ASCVD risk factors — who are more overweight, have higher blood pressure, and have more diabetes and insulin resistance — are more likely to have earlier menopause." Ballantyne is chief of cardiology at Baylor College of Medicine and director of cardiovascular disease prevention at Methodist DeBakey Heart Center, both in Houston.

"You should still look very carefully at the patient's risk factors, calculate the pooled cohort equations, and make sure you get a recommendation," he said. "If their risks are up, give recommendations on how to improve diet and exercise. Consider if you need to treat lipids or treat blood pressure with more than diet and exercise because there's nothing magical about 7.5%", the threshold for lipid-lowering therapy in the ASCVD risk calculator.

Khan and coauthors disclosed receiving grants from the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association. One coauthor reported a financial relationship with HGM Biopharmaceuticals. Ballantyne is a lead investigator of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study, one of the population-based cohorts used in the cohort study. He has no other relevant relationships to disclose.

This article originally appeared on MDEdge.com.

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