To characterize abdominal visceral adipose tissue (VAT) trajectory relative to the final menstrual period (FMP), and to test whether menopause-related VAT accumulation is associated with greater average, common carotid artery intima-media thickness (cIMT) and/or internal carotid artery intima-media thickness (ICA-IMT).
Participants were 362 women (at baseline: age was (mean ± SD) 51.1 ± 2.8 y; 61% White, 39% Black) with no cardiovascular disease from the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation Heart study. Women had up to two measurements of VAT and cIMT over time. Splines revealed a nonlinear trajectory of VAT with two inflection points demarcating three time segments: segment 1: >2 years before FMP; segment 2: 2 years before FMP to FMP; and segment 3: after FMP. Piecewise-linear random-effects models estimated changes in VAT. Random-effects models tested associations of menopause-related VAT with each cIMT measure separately. Estimates were adjusted for age at FMP, body mass index, and sociodemographic, lifestyle, and cardiovascular disease risk factors.
VAT increased significantly by 8.2% (95% CI: 4.1%-12.5%) and 5.8% (3.7%-7.9%) per year in segments 2 and 3, respectively, with no significant change in VAT within segment 1. VAT predicted greater ICA-IMT in segment 2, such that a 20% greater VAT was associated with a 2.0% (0.8%-3.1%) greater ICA-IMT. VAT was not an independent predictor of ICA-IMT in the other segments or of the other cIMT measures after adjusting for covariates.
Women experience an accelerated increase in VAT starting 2 years before menopause. This menopause-related increase in VAT is associated with greater risk of subclinical atherosclerosis in the internal carotid artery.