If I have my ovaries removed before I'm 50, will I be more likely to have dementia when I get older?
Answers from Mary M. Gallenberg, M.D.
You might, but more research is needed to know for sure. Ovary removal (oophorectomy), often done in conjunction with hysterectomy, has a dramatic effect on your body before menopause. This abrupt loss of your ovaries is also called surgical menopause, because it triggers all the changes of menopause.
Your ovaries produce most of your body's estrogen, a reproductive hormone that has many functions beyond regulating your menstrual cycle. Estrogen may protect your brain from age-related changes leading to cognitive impairment and dementia.
Some studies have suggested that early oophorectomy may increase your risk of dementia or other cognitive function deficits. Some research suggests that you may help offset this risk by taking hormone therapy (HT) until you reach a natural age of menopause.
More research will be needed before doctors can know for sure whether oophorectomy will increase your risk of dementia and whether HT is necessary.
That's why it's important to talk with your doctor before deciding to have an oophorectomy.
Ask your doctor:
- What condition the surgery is treating
- What other treatment options there are
- Whether you're close to menopause
- Whether you'll be a candidate for HT
For some women, oophorectomy is worth the long-term risks. If you carry one of the genetic mutations that make you likely to develop breast and ovarian cancers, for example, this surgery may save your life — even if you don't take HT.
Sep. 07, 2011
- Shuster LT, et al. Prophylactic oophorectomy in pre-menopausal women and long term health — A review. Menopause International. 2008;14:111.
- Vearncombe KJ, et al. Review article: Is cognitive functioning detrimentally affected after early, induced menopause? Menopause. 2009;16:188.
- Rocca WA, et al. Increased risk of cognitive impairment or dementia in women who underwent oophorectomy before menopause. Neurology. 2007;69:1074.
- Henderson VW, et al. Surgical versus natural menopause: Cognitive issues. Menopause. 2007;14:572.
- Gallenberg MM (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. July 10, 2011.
- Rocca WA, et al. Oophorectomy, menopause, estrogen treatment, and cognitive aging: Clinical evidence for a window of opportunity. Brain Research. 2011;1379:188.
- Phung TKT, et al. Hysterectomy, oophorectomy and risk of dementia: A nationwide historical cohort study. Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders. 2010;30:43.