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Older women may be at greater risk of ‘long Covid’ because of lower oestrogen levels

Post-menopausal women who have lower levels of the female sex hormone oestrogen could be at a higher risk of developing ‘long Covid’ symptoms, a study has found.

Scientists from King’s College London have called for the possible link between the menopause and Covid-19 to be investigated after findings suggested that women with lower oestrogen levels could be at a higher risk from the virus. 

The study, which analysed data from more than 500,000 women in the UK, between May and June, comes as the first batches of Pfizer/BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine were sealed approval from the UK’s medical regulator this week.

Scientists from King’s College London found that post-menopausal women who have lower levels of the female sex hormone oestrogen could be at a higher risk of developing ‘long Covid’. (Stock image)

In their study, scientists examined the rate of predicted coronavirus among post-menopausal women and premenopausal women using the combined oral contraceptive pill (COCP) and post-menopausal women taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

The pre-print study, which has not been peer-reviewed, showed women who had undergone the menopause and were in the 45-50 age group had a greater rate of coronavirus than others.

The women in this group also reported symptoms of anosmia, fever and a persistent cough, and the need for oxygen treatment in hospital.

Meanwhile women using the COCP and who were between 18-45 had a lower rate of predicted coronavirus and the rate of hospitalisation was also significantly lower.  

Researchers hypothesised that the female sex hormone could serve as a protectant against the disease.

Dr Claire Steves, who works for the Covid Symptom Study App team at King’s College London, told The Guardian: ‘It’s a good question about whether hormones could play a part, or other differences with age and gender – such as the immune response.’

Speaking about the study in August, joint lead author Dr Karla Lee, from The School of Life Course Sciences, said: ‘We hypothesised that pre-menopausal women with higher oestrogen levels would have less severe COVID-19 when compared to women of the same age and BMI who had been through the menopause, and our findings supported this. 

Scientists from King's College London suggested that women with lower oestrogen levels could be at a higher risk from the virus. (Stock image)

Scientists from King’s College London suggested that women with lower oestrogen levels could be at a higher risk from the virus. (Stock image)

‘Additionally, when we compared a younger group of women on the combined oral contraceptive pill (COCP) with a similar group not taking the COCP we saw less severe COVID amongst those taking the COCP, suggesting hormones in the COCP may offer some protection against COVID-19. 

WHAT IS THE MENOPAUSE?

Menopause is defined as the changes a woman goes through just before and after she stops her periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally. 

Some women go through this time with few, if any, symptoms, around 60 percent experience symptoms resulting in behavioral changes and one in four will suffer severely. 

Common symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness leading to discomfort during sex, disrupted sleep, decreased sex drive, problems with memory and concentration and mood swings.

Menopause happens when your ovaries stop producing as much of the hormone oestrogen and no longer release an egg each month.

In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51, according to the NHS.

‘More research is certainly needed to further our knowledge.’

However other scientists have questioned the link, with Dr Betty Raman from the University of Oxford saying that there was still a lack of evidence that oestrogen was a protective for coronavirus.

Dr Raman, who carried out a study on 58 people who were admitted to hospital and found that of the 41 per cent of women who were admitted 67 per cent were over the age of 50, added: ‘There is a lack of firm evidence that oestrogen is protective for Covid-19, though it is clear that being male is a risk factor for disease severity.’   

Oestrogen is a sex hormone that’s responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive system.

Levels of oestrogen plummet in post-menopausal women and can influence how the body functions — including the immune system.

The study comes as the first batches of Pfizer/BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine made their way to Britain this week after the breakthrough jab was approved from the UK’s medical regulator.

Thousands of doses of the vaccine were shipped from Pfizer’s factories in Belgium within hours of it being given the green light by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), making Britain the first country in the world to have a clinically authorised Covid-19 jab. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock claimed an end to the pandemic was now ‘in sight’ but warned the roll out will be ‘one of the biggest civilian logistical efforts that we’ve faced as a nation’. 

Boris Johnson declared the vaccine would ‘allow us to reclaim our lives and get the economy moving again’ — but the PM also warned Britons must not ‘get their hopes up’ about a rapid deployment of the jab. 

And Chancellor Rishi Sunak said it was ‘definitely positive news’ that would hopefully boost consumer confidence and bolster Britain’s economic recovery.

Some 800,000 doses of the Pfizer’s vaccine — which requires two doses being taken 21 days apart — will be made available ‘from next week’. 

The UK has pre-ordered 40million doses in total, with 10million due by the end of 2020 and the rest next year.


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