Dr. Melissa Wellons of Vanderbilt University Medical Center and colleagues studied 2,509 women enrolled in the Multiethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, with 693 reporting either surgical or natural early menopause before age 46.
Women with early menopause were more often smokers, had diabetes and had a higher average body mass index.
Within the study, early menopause in European, African-American, Hispanic and Asian women doubled the risk for cardiovascular disease when compared to groups experiencing menopause later in life.
"This is an observational study, so my colleagues and I can't conclude that early menopause is the cause of future cardiovascular disease," Wellons said in a statement. "But our findings do support the use of age at menopause as a marker of future heart and vascular disease risk."
Wellons, who conducted the research while at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, said the study was especially important because cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in U.S. women.
"My hope is that getting this message out will motivate women with early menopause to engage in the lifestyle and medical strategies known to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease -- like controlling cholesterol, blood pressure and excess weight and by exercising," Wellons added.
The findings were published in the journal Menopause.