The severity of key risk factors for heart disease, diabetes and stroke appears to increase more rapidly in the years leading up to menopause, rather than after, warns a study.

The findings showed that women experienced rapid increases in metabolic syndrome severity during the last years of pre-menopause and the transition years to menopause, known as perimenopause.

The risk factors, together known as metabolic syndrome, include a large waistline, high triglyceride (a blood fat) levels, low high-density lipoprotein — the “good” cholesterol — levels, high blood pressure and high blood sugar when fasting.

“The study indicates that the increased risk may be related more to the changes happening as women go through menopause and less to the changes that take place after menopause,” said Mark DeBoer, Associate Professor at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, US.

For the study, the team analysed the records of 1,470 African-American and white women.

Participants were selected based on whether they went through menopausal changes over a 10-year period.

The African-American women experienced a much more rapid increase in metabolic syndrome severity before menopause, but a slower rate of increase after menopause, than white women.

The study provides physicians and other healthcare providers with an opportunity to motivate women to make lifestyle changes that will decrease their risk of having a heart attack, stroke or developing diabetes, said the paper published in Journal of the American Heart Association.

“The years transitioning to menopause may represent a ‘teachable moment’, when patients are especially receptive to learning and putting into practice healthy habits that can make a difference in their cardiovascular disease risk,” DeBoer noted.

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