Women urged to get their lungs tested after menopause
The new research, funded by the British Lung Foundation, was presented at the European Respiratory Society’s International Congress in London from 3-7 September, which brings together the brightest minds in lung health to discuss possible breakthroughs.
The research, which looked at over 140,000 women who provided samples to the UK Biobank, shows that women who have been through natural menopause are 27% more likely to have lower lung function than women still menstruating.
What’s more, the earlier the menopause occurred, the lower the lung function is likely to be afterwards. Among post-menopausal women aged 60 or older, those who experienced menopause before they were 45 were about 20% more likely to have lower lung function than women who hit menopause between 48-53 years.
The risk of reduced lung function is also slightly higher among women who have had a hysterectomy, with these women 31-36% more likely to have lower lung function than pre-menopausal women.
With lower lung function leaving people at greater risk of respiratory health issues and research also pointing to direct links between early menopause and increased mortality , the Healthy Lungs for Life campaign is encouraging all women in their late 40s and above to get their lungs tested regularly and to take steps to improve their lung capacity, like regular exercise.
Andre Amaral, Research Associate at the National Heart and Lung Institute (Imperial College London), who authored the study, said: "This is by far the largest study to assess the link between lung function and menopause. We have shown that menopause decreases lung function in women, especially if it occurs early in life, regardless of whether or not they are smokers. These findings are particularly relevant if we consider evidence from other studies showing that low lung function and an early age at menopause are already associated with increased mortality".
Commenting on the study, Professor Jørgen Vestbo, President of ERS and Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the University of Manchester, said:
“With life expectancy for women in the UK now above 80 and increasing, many women undergoing menopause at 50 will spend a large part of their lives in a postmenopausal state, making it more important than ever to improve our understanding of the impact it has on the lungs. This research is important. GPs and other health professionals must be aware of the risks to lung health for women going through the menopause and work with them to prevent it being a trigger for other conditions”.
Professor Stephen Holgate, ERS Science Council Chair and Chair of the Research Committee, British Lung Foundation said:
“This research is a real eye opener, we know that often lung conditions affect women over 50, but these findings suggest it is linked to the menopause. As a lung health charity we know that lung conditions have a huge impact on lives, reducing quality of life. We know that many people ignore early symptoms of lung disease, including breathlessness, until it becomes a significant problem. The British Lung Foundation’s year-long campaign, Listen to your lungs, urges women not to ignore feeling breathless and to take our online breath test and see if they need to see a doctor to help prevent long term lung damage and complements the global campaign Healthy Lungs for Life.”