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Menopause can weaken the lungs

The lung functioning of women is weakened more quickly after the menopause, and this can lead to greater difficulty in breathing. This is shown by a new European study which draws on data from The Department of Public Health at Aarhus University, among other sources.

2016.12.11 | Kirsten Olesen

Take care of your lungs – also after the menopause, says Vivi Schlünssen from AU.

    Lung capacity decreases over the years, but a European study that includes a contribution from Aarhus University shows that the process is faster for women during – or after – the menopause.

    The weakening appears to particularly affect the women's total lung capacity (FVC) and is equivalent to having smoked 20 cigarettes a day for a decade. But measurements of how long it takes to empty the lungs (FEV1) also show a faster weakening for the group of women than normally expected for this age group.

    According to the results, former and current smokers may in particular find that getting their breath can become a little more difficult. The results have just been published online in The American Thoracic Society's journal American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

    Take care of your lungs – also after the menopause

    "The study emphasises that it is important to be aware of the need to take care of your lungs long after you have passed the menopause," says Associate Professor, PhD Vivi Schlünssen from The Department of Public Health, Aarhus University.

    She has been responsible for the Danish part of the European study, which comprises a total of 1,438 women who have been followed over a twenty-year period. 

    Together with the other researchers behind the study, she points to several possible causes of the new results: Partly that the menopause leads to hormonal changes that can result in systemic inflammation resulting in lost lung capacity. And partly because the menopause can lead to osteoporosis, which can in turn lead to the chest collapsing and thereby affecting the ability to breathe deeply.

    "My advice to women of a certain age is therefore that they should avoid exposing themselves unnecessarily to particles and other types of air pollution – first and foremost by not smoking as well as avoiding passive smoking, but also by being aware of air pollution in the workplace," says Vivi Schlünssen.

    Background for the results:

  • The study comprises 1,438 women who have participated in the "European Community Respiratory Health Survey". The participants were aged between 25 and 48 and had not begun the menopause when the study began. They were followed for twenty years.
  • The study's first author is PhD Kai Triebner from The University of Bergen. Additional researchers from Norway, France, Iceland, Australia, Sweden, Spain, Germany, the UK, Estonia, Switzerland, Ireland and Denmark have also contributed to the study.
  • The European Commission has supported the study.
  • See the article (ahead of print): Menopause is Associated with Accelerated Lung Function Decline

  • For more information, please contact:

    Associate Professor Vivi Schlünssen
    Department of Public Health, Aarhus University
    Mobile: (+45) 2899 2499
    Email: vs@ph.au.dk

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