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Women's age at first menstrual cycle linked to heart disease risk

American Heart Association rapid access journal report

American Heart Association

Women who had their first menstrual cycle at age 10 or younger, or age 17 or older, may be at higher risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and complications of high blood pressure, according to new research in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation.

Researchers analyzed data collected from 1.3 million women aged 50 to 64 years old, who were mostly white. After over a decade of observation, those women who had their first menstrual cycle at the age of 13 had the least risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.

Compared to women who had their first menstrual cycle at age 13, women with their first menstrual cycle at age 10 or younger, or age 17 or older, had up to:

  • 27 percent more hospitalizations or deaths due to heart disease;

  • 16 percent more hospitalizations or deaths from stroke; and

  • 20 percent more hospitalizations with high blood pressure, or deaths due to its complications.

"The size of our study, the wide range of ages considered, and the vascular diseases being examined made it unique and informative," said Dexter Canoy, M.D, Ph.D., study lead author and cardiovascular epidemiologist at the Cancer Epidemiology Unit, Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford in the U.K. "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."

The effect of age of the first occurrence of menstruation on heart disease was consistently found among lean, over-weight, and obese women, among never, past or current smokers, and among women in lower, middle, or higher socioeconomic groups.

For the majority of these women, however, their additional risk of developing a vascular disease was small. Of the million women, only four percent of them had their first menstrual cycle occurring at age 10 or younger, and only one percent at age 17 or older.

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Co-authors are Valerie Beral, F.R.S.; Angela Balkwill, M.Sc.; F. Lucy Wright, D.Phil.; Mary E. Kroll, Ph.D.; Gillian K. Reeves, Ph.D.; Jane Green, D.Phil.; Benjamin J. Cairns, Ph.D. Author disclosures and funding are on the manuscript.

Additional Resources:

  • Impact on Females

  • Menopause and Heart Disease

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  • For updates and new science from the Circulation journal follow @CircAHA.

Statements and conclusions of study authors published in American Heart Association scientific journals are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect the association's policy or position. The association makes no representation or guarantee as to their accuracy or reliability. The association receives funding primarily from individuals; foundations and corporations (including pharmaceutical, device manufacturers and other companies) also make donations and fund specific association programs and events. The association has strict policies to prevent these relationships from influencing the science content. Revenues from pharmaceutical and device corporations are available at http://www.heart.org/corporatefunding.

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