A woman is twice as likely to suffer a heart attack in later life if she goes through the menopause early, according to a new study.
Women typically begin menopause at an average age of 51, but it can occur earlier either naturally or as a result of surgery to remove the ovaries.
A US study of more than 2,500 women aged between 45 and 84 found women who had an early menopause – before the age of 46 – could be at double the risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack to those who experience it at a more usual stage.
Some 28% of the women in the study reported having an early menopause – 446 had a natural menopause and 247 a surgical menopause.
The study monitored the women to see how many of them experienced a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack, non-fatal cardiac arrest, stroke or angina (chest pain caused by blocked arteries).
None of the participants encountered such an event before the age of 55.
After that time, women who had an early menopause were more than twice as likely to suffer an event than women who had not.
The research was presented at the annual meeting of The Endocrine Society in San Diego, California.
Study leader Dr Melissa Wellons, from the University of Alabama in Birmingham, US, said: "It is important for women to know that early menopause is a potential risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
"They can then work harder to improve their modifiable risk factors, such as high cholesterol and blood pressure, by exercising and following a healthy diet."