Early menarche linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease

(and so are early menopause, pregnancy complications and hysterectomy)

Women who started their period before the age of 12 have an increased risk of heart disease and stroke in later life, suggests a study published in Heart today.

Early menarche is one of several reproductive risk factors (as well as early menopause, pregnancy complications and hysterectomy) associated with cardiovascular disease. Previous literature has suggested that certain reproductive risk factors may be linked to heart disease and stroke risk, but these findings were mixed.

Drs. Sanne Peters and Mark Woodward’s observational study uses data from the UK Biobank, a population-based project involving over 500,000 men and women below the age of 69. Participants filled in questionnaires about their lifestyle as well as their medical history, including questions about reproductive factors. Their physical health was assessed, and urine, blood and saliva samples taken for analysis.

Women who started their periods before the age of 12 were seen to be at 10% higher risk of cardiovascular disease than women who were 13 or older at menarche. Those who went through the menopause before the age of 47 had a 33% increased risk of cardiovascular disease, rising to a 42% higher risk of stroke.

Previous miscarriages are also associated with a higher risk of heart disease, with each miscarriage increasing the risk by 6%. Stillbirths are associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease in general (22%) and stroke in particular (44%).

Although no firm causal claims can be made from this observational study, the paper’s authors advise that “more frequent cardiovascular screening would seem to be sensible among women who are early in their reproductive cycle, or who have a history of adverse reproductive events or a hysterectomy, as this might help to delay or prevent their onset of [cardiovascular disease].”

By Kate Womersley