Oophorectomy (ovary removal): A risk factor for dementia?

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Oophorectomy (ovary removal): A risk factor for dementia?

Question

If I have my ovaries removed before I'm 50, will I be more likely to have dementia when I get older?

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Answer

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.

Last Updated: 2011-09-07
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