Age at First Period May Predict Heart Risk

Heart disease risk was higher in women who started menstruating before age 11 or after 16

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Women who had their first period earlier or later than average may want to keep a close eye on their heart health and take action to lower their heart disease risk.

The authors of a new study found that women who began menstruating when they were younger than 11 or older than 16 were more likely to develop heart disease later on. Early or late first periods were also tied to higher stroke and high blood pressure risks.

"Childhood obesity, widespread in many industrialized countries, is linked particularly to early age at which the first menstrual cycle occurs," said lead study author Dexter Canoy, MD, PhD, of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, in a press release.

Dr. Canoy added that tackling childhood obesity may "reduce their risk of developing heart disease over the long term."

A girl's first period is a signal that puberty has begun, triggering many hormonal and physical changes in the body.

This study looked at how a girl's age at the time of her first period may affect her heart health later on in life. The study included 1.2 million women who were 56 years old on average. At the start of the study, none of the women had had a stroke, heart disease or cancer.

Dr. Canoy and colleagues asked the women how old they were when they started menstruating. They followed up with the women for almost 12 years.

Of the 1.2 million patients, 73,378 developed heart disease over the course of the study.

These researchers also found that 25,000 women experienced cerebrovascular disease (disease of the brain and its blood vessels), which often results in stroke. Almost 250,000 had problems with high blood pressure.

Dr. Canoy and team found that the women with the lowest risk of heart disease were those who got their first periods when they were 13 years old.

Women who had their first periods when they were 10 years old or younger had a 27 percent higher risk of having heart disease than women who started their periods at 13.

Women who started their periods when they were 17 or older had a 23 percent higher risk of heart disease than those who started at 13.

This pattern was similar for the risk of cerebrovascular disease and high blood pressure, although this additional risk was not as high as with heart disease.

Among the group of middle-aged women, "both early and late ages at [first period] are associated with significantly increased risk of incident coronary heart disease," Dr. Canoy and colleagues wrote.

This study was published Dec. 15 in Circulation.

Cancer Research UK, the Medical Research Council and the NHS Cancer Screening Programme funded this research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
December 12, 2014
Last Updated:
December 19, 2014