Women from the lowest social class are almost three times as likely to have premature ovarian failure (POF) as those from the highest social class, a researcher told the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology today (Wednesday). POF is not only associated with infertility but also with significantly increased morbidity and mortality, as well as a decreased quality of life equivalent to that of people with type 2 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, said Dr. Rumana Islam, from Imperial College, London, UK.
Previous studies of POF, defined as the onset of menopause before the age of 40, have assessed the small group of women who seek hospital care, and therefore there is little information about the risks and impacts of POF across a whole population, Dr. Islam explained. With her colleague Dr. Rufus Cartwright, she studied the records of nearly 5000 women who formed part of the 1958 Birth Cohort. “This included all the women born in Britain in a single week,” explained Dr. Islam. “They have been followed up eight times, most recently at age 50, when they were asked about the date and cause of their menopause and also their quality of life.”
Out of the 4968 study participants, 370, or 7.4%, had either spontaneous or medically induced POF. In addition to the influence of social class, there was a strong independent association with smoking. Quality of life was measured using the SF-36 health survey, which produces a profile of physical and psychological health and well-being in eight areas. Women with POF were more than twice as likely to report poor quality of life, and this effect was not eliminated by taking confounding factors such as smoking, obesity, and physical exercise into account. “There was also a profound impact on quality of life 10 years after POF, affecting vitality, physical function, mental health, and general health perceptions. However, social function was unaffected,” said Dr. Islam.