Women who go through the menopause aged 40 or younger have a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes in their 60’s, according to an Australian study.

The average age a woman goes through the menopause is 51, but this study, carried out by researchers from the University of Queensland, suggests those who experience it early have a three-fold increase of developing multiple chronic conditions.

In response, calls have been made to introduce “comprehensive screening and assessment of risk factors” for those experiencing premature menopause.

Professor Gita Mishra, lead researcher in the study, said: “Our findings indicate that multi-morbidity is common in mid-aged and early-elderly women. Premature menopause is associated with an increased risk of developing multi-morbidity, even after adjusting for previous chronic conditions and for possible factors that could affect the results, such as whether or not the women had children, how many, education, body mass index, smoking and physical activity.”

The findings of this study were based on 5,000 women aged between 45 and 50 who were tracked from 1996 to 2016.

Participants were asked if they had been diagnosed with, or treated for, a total of 11 health conditions over the previous three years, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, depression, anxiety or breast cancer.

Those who had two or more of the health conditions were classed as having multi-morbidity. According to the results, 71% of women who had premature menopause had gone on to develop multiple chronic illnesses by the age of 60, compared with 55% of those who went through the menopause aged 50 or 51.

Once other risk factors including obesity were discounted by the researchers, the research team concluded that the impact of an early menopause was even greater and actually represented a three-fold risk increase.

A total of 2.3% of study participants experienced premature menopause and 55% of these went on to develop multi-morbidity.

Genetic differences linked to early menopause could also be linked to chronic conditions, and a reduction in oestrogen production could also speed up the ageing process, triggering health conditions earlier, researchers speculated.

Professor Mishra added: “Our findings suggest that health professionals should consider providing comprehensive screening and assessment of risk factors when treating women who experience natural premature menopause in order to assess their risk of multi-morbidity.

“Our findings also highlight that multi-morbidity should be considered as a clinical and public health priority when policy-makers are considering how to control and prevent chronic health problems in women.”

The study was published in the Human Reproduction journal.

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