STUDY QUESTION: Is age at natural menopause (ANM) associated with the development of multiple chronic conditions (multimorbidity) in postmenopausal life?
SUMMARY ANSWER: Women with premature menopause experience increased odds of developing individual chronic conditions and multimorbidity.
WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: ANM is considered as a marker of age-related morbidity and mortality in postmenopausal life. Multimorbidity affects more than 60% of older women and has been recognized as the most common 'chronic condition'. Few studies have examined the association between ANM and the development of multimorbidity.
STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: A prospective national cohort study of 11 258 Australian women, aged 45-50 years in 1996. Women were followed from 1996 to 2016.
PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: Information about ANM and 11 chronic conditions (diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, osteoporosis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression, anxiety and breast cancer) were estimated approximately every 3 years. Multimorbidity is defined as 2 or more of these 11 conditions. Generalized estimating equations were used to link the categorical ANM with individual chronic conditions and multimorbidity.
MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: Among 5107 women reporting ANM, 2.3% experienced premature menopause (≤40 years) and 55.1% developed multimorbidity. Compared with women who experienced menopause at age 50-51 years, women with premature menopause had twice the odds of experiencing multimorbidity by age 60 (OR = 1.98, 95% CI 1.31 to 2.98) and three times the odds of developing multimorbidity in their 60s (OR = 3.03, 95% CI 1.62 to 5.64). Women with premature menopause also experienced higher incidence of most individual chronic conditions.
LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: The main limitation of this study was the use of self-reported data, but with repeated assessments from prospective study design and the validity of most of the chronic conditions from hospital data, the potential for non-differential misclassification is minimized.
WIDE IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: To our knowledge, this is the first study to assess the association of premature menopause and development of multimorbidity in a larger national cohort of mid-aged women. Health professionals should consider comprehensive screening and assessment of risk factors for multimorbidity when treating women who experienced premature menopause.
STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health was supported by the Australian Government Department of Health. X.X. is funded by an International Postgraduate Research Scholarship from the Australian government and a UQ Centennial Scholarship from The University of Queensland. G.D.M. is supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council Principal Research Fellowship (APP1121844). None of the authors has any conflicts of interest to declare.