Age of first period linked to risk of heart disease in women

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Age of first period linked to risk of heart disease in women
Age of first period linked to risk of heart disease in women

Early or late onset of a woman’s first menstrual cycle may influence her risk of developing heart disease later in life, suggests a new study from the U.K. The study found that women who had their first period at age 10 or younger, or at age 17 or older, may be at a higher risk for developing heart disease, stroke, and complications from high blood pressure.

For the study, researchers analyzed data collected from 1.3 million women ages 50 to 64. In over a decade of follow-up, the investigators found that women who had their first period around the age of 13 had the least risk of developing coronary disease, stroke or high blood pressure.

Of the women who fell into the high-risk category, the study showed that they were 27 percent more likely to be hospitalized or die from heart disease and 16 percent more likely to be hospitalized or die of a stroke. In addition, the researchers found that 20 percent of the women who started their periods at 10 or younger or 17 and older were more likely to be hospitalized or die because of high blood pressure complications.

The effect of the age of menstrual onset on the risk factors remained the same regardless of whether the women were lean, overweight or obese or whether they were smokers. It also was consistent in women in lower, middle or higher socioeconomic groups.

“We now understand that the timing of the first menstrual cycle could have a long-term influence on women’s vascular health,” study author Dexter Canoy, PhD, a cardiovascular epidemiologist in the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University, told HealthDay.

Although the study shows an association between the timing of the first period and its impact on women’s cardiovascular health, it does not prove age of onset causes heart disease, stroke or high blood pressure.

And while Canoy pointed out that only a small number of women in the study had early or late onset of their menstrual cycle, he noted a link to obesity and its association with early periods in girls, and by extension the risk of heart disease.

“Childhood obesity, widespread in many industrialized countries, is linked particularly to early age at which the first menstrual cycle occurs. Public health strategies to tackle childhood obesity may possibly prevent the lowering of the average age of first menstrual cycle, which may in turn reduce their risk of developing heart disease over the long term,” Canoy said in a news release.

Along with preventing childhood obesity, Canoy advises middle-aged women to focus on prevention and modifiable behaviors that are associated with heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure, including stopping smoking and lowering high cholesterol levels.

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