Menopausal women experience a decline in lung function similar to smoking 20 cigarettes a day for a decade, according to new research from Norway.
The study, “Menopause is Associated with Accelerated Lung Function Decline,” was published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
Menopause leads to alterations in sex hormones, which have an impact on immunity, inflammation, and osteoporosis, and may even impair lung function. However, lung function decline remains a critical matter to be examined in relation to menopause.
Now, Kai Triebner from the Department of Clinical Science at the University of Bergen (UiB) in Norway and colleagues examined whether lung function decline, assessed through forced vital capacity and forced expiratory volume in one second, is accelerated in women who go through menopause.
Researchers used data from the population-based longitudinal European Community Respiratory Health Survey. Data was collected from serum samples, spirometry, and questionnaires about respiratory and reproductive health from three study waves in 1,438 women in different stages of menopause.
The team found that menopausal status was associated with accelerated lung function decline, equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes every day for a decade, and the decline in lung size was equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes a day for two years.
“The decline in lung function may cause an increase in shortness of breath, reduced work capacity and fatigue,” Triebner said in a news release.
The symptoms depend on the magnitude of the lung function decline, and as a result, some women may actually develop respiratory failure.
“Women are living longer and, therefore, many years beyond menopause,” Triebner said, emphasizing that it is important for women to maintain their respiratory health long after menopause.
The results also revealed that current and past smokers revealed a sharper decline in both age- and menopause-related decline in lung function.
“There may be several possible explanations for these findings. Menopause brings hormonal changes that have been linked to systemic inflammation, which itself is associated with lung function decline,” Triebner said. “Hormonal changes are also implicated in osteoporosis, which shortens the height of the chest vertebrae and may, in turn, limit the amount of air a person can inhale.”
Women and their doctors should be aware that lung function might decline during and after they have transitioned to menopause.