Women who have early or premature menopause may be at risk for a decline in brain function later in life, according to research recently published by BJOC: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (BJOC).
The study suggested that early or premature menopause is associated with long-term negative effects on cognitive function.
Menopause typically occurs around age 50, but premature menopause can start at or around age 40, and early menopause can begin between ages 41 and 45. Early or premature menopause can occur naturally or be caused by medical treatments.
Medical treatments that may cause early menopause include chemotherapy or pelvic radiation treatments. Surgical removal of both ovaries, also called an ovariectomy or bilateral oophorectomy, causes immediate menopause.
When early menopause occurs naturally, possible causes can include autoimmune diseases such as thyroid disease and rheumatoid arthritis, chromosome defects and genetics.
BJOC wrote that for the 4,868 women in this study, natural menopause was reported by 79 percent, 10 percent as surgical menopause, and 11 percent reported menopause due to other causes, such as radiation or chemotherapy.
Around 7.6 percent of the women had premature menopause and a further 12.8 percent had early menopause. Over one-fifth of the women used hormone treatment during menopause.
The study used cognitive tests and clinical dementia diagnosis at baseline and after two, four and seven years and aimed to determine whether early or premature menopause has an effect on later-life cognitive function.
Compared to those who began menopause after age 50, women with premature menopause were 40 percent more likely to do poorly on verbal and visual memory tests.
They also had a 35 percent higher risk of decline in psychomotor speed (coordination between the brain and the muscles that brings about movement) and overall mental function.
Furthermore, both premature ovarian failure and premature surgical menopause were associated with more than a two-fold risk of poor verbal fluency, wrote BJOC.
In terms of visual memory, premature ovarian failure was associated with a significantly increased risk of poor performance, and there was a similar trend for premature surgical menopause.
Researchers found no significant association between premature menopause and increased risk of dementia.
There was some evidence that using hormone treatment at the time of premature menopause might benefit visual memory, but could also increase the risk of verbal problems.
Dr. Joanne Ryan, a postdoctoral research fellow in neuropsychiatry, epidemiological and clinical research at Hospital La Colombiere in Montpellier, France told BJOC how these results should be used in the future.
"In terms of surgical menopause, our results suggest that the potential long-term effects on cognitive function should form part of the decision-making process when considering ovariectomy in younger women."
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Reviewed June 11, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith