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Study links menopause to lumbar disc degeneration

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Menopause is associated with disc degeneration in the lumbar spine, which causes lower back pain, researchers say.

Although previous studies have investigated the association between menopause and lumbar disc degeneration, the new research published in Menopause, the journal of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), is thought to be the first to include age-matched men as a comparison group.

Existing evidence already points to the involvement of oestrogen deficiency in disc degeneration, as well as the benefits of hormone therapy on the total lumbar disc height in post-menopausal women.

The new study included 1,566 women and 1,382 men who were admitted for low back pain between June 2013 and October 2016. Lumbar disc degeneration was assessed using a magnetic resonance imaging-based eight-level grading system.

Results revealed that whereas young, age-matched men were more susceptible to disc degeneration than pre-menopausal women were, post-menopausal women had a significant tendency to develop more severe disc degeneration than age-matched men compared with pre-menopausal and peri-menopausal women.

According to the researchers, the most dramatic difference was seen in the first 15 years after the onset of menopause.

“This study shows that menopause is associated with more severe disc degeneration,” commented Dr JoAnn Pinkerton, executive director of NAMS. “Prevention of disc degeneration of the lumbar spine may be another potential benefit for symptomatic menopausal women who may be candidates for hormone therapy.”

The researchers also noted, however, that further studies are needed to determine whether age or menopause plays a more important role in the progression of disc degeneration in the lumbar spine.