Cardiovascular risk at age 53 years in relation to the menopause transition and use of hormone replacement therapy: a prospective British birth cohort study


Professor D. Kuh, MRC National Survey of Health and Development, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Royal Free and University College Medical School, 1-19 Torrington Place, London WC1E 6BT, UK.


Objectives  To investigate cardiovascular risk factors and changes in risk factor levels in relation to menopausal stage, hysterectomy status and hormone replacement therapy use in a cohort of women aged 53 years with prospective data on smoking, lifetime socio-economic circumstances, and blood pressure and obesity at age 43 years.

Design  A prospective study.

Setting  England, Scotland and Wales.

Population  A cohort of women from the Medical Research Council Survey of Health and Development.

Methods  A total of 1303 women, aged 53 years, from a UK birth cohort study with measures of cardiovascular risk factors were classified by five menopausal status groups (premenopause, perimenopause, postmenopause, hysterectomy and hormone replacement therapy user). Body mass index, glycosolated haemoglobin, blood pressure, high density lipoprotein, low density lipoprotein and total cholesterol measurements were taken, and analysed within the groups taking confounding variables into account. Changes in body mass index and blood pressure measurement in the same women obtained when 43 years of age were also compared.

Main outcome measures  Body mass index, glycosolated haemoglobin, blood pressure, high density lipoprotein, low density lipoprotein and total cholesterol.

Results  At 53 years, body mass index, waist circumference, total and low density lipoprotein cholesterol, and glycosolated haemoglobin (HbA1c) varied by menopausal status group, but blood pressure did not. Levels of total cholesterol and HbA1c increased across the natural menopause transition, before and after adjustment for body mass index, smoking and lifetime socio-economic circumstances. After adjustment for confounders, levels of risk factors for hysterectomised women were similar to those of naturally postmenopausal women. Women on hormone replacement therapy had lower levels of total and low density lipoprotein cholesterol, HbA1c, and were less obese than postmenopausal women. The lower obesity levels were partly due to these women already being less obese at age 43 years.

Conclusions  This study showed that naturally postmenopausal or hysterectomised women had higher levels of metabolic risk factors compared with premenopausal or perimenopausal women of the same age. The long term stability of these differences and their translation into variations in incidence of cardiovascular disease remain to be seen. The lower levels of metabolic risk factors for women on hormone replacement therapy may protect against future cardiovascular disease or may be overwhelmed by other adverse, and as yet unknown, effects of hormone replacement therapy.