Women who experience premature menopause are almost three times more likely to develop multiple, chronic medical problems in their 60s, says a new study.
It is known already that premature menopause, occurring at the age of 40 or younger, is linked to a number of individual medical problems in later life, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
However, there is little information about whether there is also an association between the time of natural menopause and the development of multiple medical conditions known as multimorbidity.
For the findings, published in the journal Human Reproduction, researchers at the University of Queensland followed more than 5,000 women aged 45 to 50 from 1996 until 2016.
"We found that 71 per cent of women with premature menopause had developed multimorbidity by the age of 60 compared with 55 per cent of women who experienced menopause at the age of 50-51," said study researcher Xiaolin Xu from Zhejiang University in China.
"In addition, 45 per cent of women with premature menopause had developed multimorbidity in their 60s compared with 40 per cent of women who experienced menopause at the age of 50-51," Xu added.
The women responded to the first survey in 1996 and then answered questionnaires every three years (apart from a two-year interval between the first and second survey) until 2016.
The women reported whether they had been diagnosed with or treated for any of 11 health problems in the past three years: diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, osteoporosis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression, anxiety or breast cancer.
Women were considered to have multimorbidity if they had two or more of these conditions.
During the 20 years of follow-up, 2.3 per cent of women experienced premature menopause and 55 per cent developed multimorbidity.
Compared with women who experienced menopause at the age of 50-51 years, women with premature menopause were twice as likely to develop multimorbidity by the age of 60, and three times as likely to develop multimorbidity from the age of 60 onwards.
"Our findings indicate that multimorbidity is common in mid-aged and early-elderly women," said Indian-origin researcher and study senior author Gita Mishra.
"We also found that premature menopause is associated with a higher incidence of individual chronic conditions," Xu added.