Age-related decline in women’s lung function can accelerates during and after menopause, a recent study suggests.
Past research has shown that young women can boost their lung function through their mid-twenties by following a healthy lifestyle with sufficient aerobic exercise and avoidance of cigarettes. After that, lung function declines gradually, and the process can be accelerated when people smoke or carry excess fat around their belly.
“Our study adds that with the increase of the reproductive age slope of the decrease becomes steeper and the decrease faster, and it speeds up after the age-related expectations,” said lead study author Kai Triebner, a researcher at the University of Bergen in Norway.
The good news for women is they can take steps to their respiratory health early in life to limit the possible deterioration of lung function with the menopause to cause major health problems, Triebner added by e-mail.
“Generally speaking, you can not build the lung function, again, unless the damage is due to a medical condition, but you can manage the decline,” Triebner added.
Women go through menopause when they stop menstruating, which usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. If the ovaries curb the production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone in the years prior to menopause and after, women with symptoms ranging from irregular menstruation and vaginal dryness to mood swings and insomnia.
For the current study, the researchers examined the data on 1,438 women who were followed for 20 years from when they are between 25 and 48 years old.
None of the women had started going through menopause when they joined the study. By the end, they had started or completed the process of going through menopause.
To assess changes in lung function tied to the menopause, researchers examined what is known as forced vital capacity (FVC), a measure of lung size, as well as the forced expiratory volume (FEV1), or how much air can be pushed out of the lungs in one second.
Lung function decline was faster during the transition to menopause, and flew even further after the menopause, in comparison with when the women were still menstruating, researchers report in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
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For example, transition-women lost about 10 milliliters of forced vital lung capacity more per year than pre-menopausal women, and after menopause, women lost an average of 12 ml/year more.
For the forced vital capacity, the decrease after the menopause is to compare it with the smoking of 20 cigarettes per day for 10 years, the study found.
With forced expiratory volume, decrease after menopause, is to compare it with the smoking of 20 cigarettes per day for two years.
The more pronounced decrease in the forced vital capacity in comparison with forced expiratory volume suggests that the menopause have a greater chance to lead to what is known as a restrictive respiratory diseases, such as sarcoidosis, which make it difficult to fully expand the lungs on the inhale, rather than breathing problems, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which make it difficult to exhale air from the lungs, the authors conclude.
The study is observational and does not prove menopause directly caused breathing problems, the authors note.
While the findings do not explain why the lung function decreased for women after menopause, it is possible that the hormonal changes during this time, which have been linked to systemic inflammation can also lead to the declining lung function, the authors point out.
Hormonal changes are also implicated in osteoporosis, which reduces the height of the chest) vertebrae, and can, in turn, limits the amount of air a person can inhale.
Both before and after the menopause, although the rate of decline of lung function is slow, and can only significantly in women with a pulmonary disease, said Dr. David Jacoby, a researcher at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, who are not involved in the study.
“Anyone with lungs damaged by smokers who have no symptoms at the age of 30 may symptoms of her lung disease later in life, such as her lung function decreases with age,” Jacoby said by e-mail. “The message, an obvious one is to avoid smoking to avoid damaging your lungs, and if you have a chronic lung disease, take your medications to keep your lung function as close as possible.”