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A recent UK study published in Heart, an international cardiology journal, has indicated that women who start their menstruation cycle at the age of 11 or earlier, or enter menopause before 47, have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.
According to the study, some other factors that were associated with elevated odds of heart problems in later years were miscarriage, stillbirth, undergoing a hysterectomy, and bearing children at a young age.
The findings of the study led by Sanne A E Peters from The George Institute for Global Health, University of Oxford, have suggested that women who had premature reproductive cycles or a history of adverse events should be screened for heart problems.
In an email interview, Dr. Peters told The Hindu that the study included 2,67,440 women and 2,15,088 men without a history of cardiovascular disease (CVD) at baseline.
Between 2006 and 2010, the UK Biobank recruited over 5,00,000 participants aged 40–69 years across the UK.
Participants filled in questionnaires on their lifestyle, environment, and medical history, which included their reproductive history.
They were monitored up to March 2016 or until they suffered a first heart attack.
The study found a strong link between women’s reproductive health and her risk of cardiovascular problems.
Women who began their periods early, or who had pregnancy complications such as stillbirth or who needed a hysterectomy were also more likely to develop heart issues.
Women who went through menopause before the age of 47 had a 33% heightened risk of cardiovascular disease, rising to 42% for their risk of stroke, according to the study.
Those who entered puberty before the age of 12 were at 10% greater risk of cardiovascular disease than those who had been 13 or older when they started, the study said.
Previous miscarriages were associated with a higher risk of heart disease, with each miscarriage increasing the risk by 6%.
And having a stillbirth was associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease in general (22%) and of stroke in particular (44%).
During 7 years of follow-up, a total of 9,054 incident cases of CVD (34% women), 5,782 cases of coronary heart disease (CHD) (28% women), and 3,489 cases of stroke (43% women) were recorded among the participants.
“The study was conducted primarily among white British women. Although possible, further studies are needed to establish whether these findings also apply to women in India,” said Dr. Peters.
The research has suggested that policymakers should consider implementing more frequent screening for cardiovascular disease among women with one or more of the risk factors highlighted here in order to put in place measures that can help delay or prevent the development of heart disease and stroke.
Cardiovascular disease, a general term for conditions affecting the heart or blood vessels, remains the leading cause of death worldwide.
Previous research has suggested that the early onset of periods is linked to obesity, a known risk factor for heart disease in later life.
However the findings of this study showed that the risk of developing cardiovascular disease increased for women even if they had a healthy weight.
The researchers also ruled out smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure as possible causes.
Dr. Peters pointed out that we need more research to understand the association between an early first menstrual cycle and a greater risk of heart disease and stroke in later life.