Do you have an irregular period? It could be an early warning sign of heart disease
According to a new study, women with irregular menstrual periods appear to be at a significantly higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
Up to one-fifth of American women of reproductive age — about 12 million of them — struggle with an abnormal period, which occurs when the length of their menstrual cycle unexpectedly falls outside of the regular range, typically less than 21 days or longer than 35 days .
According to a team of researchers in China, irregular menstrual periods can be an inconvenience for millions of women at best, but at worst they increase women’s risk of heart disease by 19 percent and atrial fibrillation by a whopping 40 percent.
The study followed more than 58,000 women over a 12-year period. Afterward, the researchers found that about 3.4 percent of women with irregular cycles developed cardiovascular disease, compared to about 2.5 percent of women with normal periods.
Huijie Zhang, professor at Southern Medical University in China and lead author of the study, called: “These findings have important public health implications for the prevention of atrial fibrillation and myocardial infarction in women and underscore the importance of monitoring menstrual cycle characteristics throughout a woman’s reproductive life.”
An analysis of data from more than 58,000 women found that both short (less than 21 days) and long (more than 35 days) menstrual cycles were associated with a higher risk of developing heart disease, atrial fibrillation and heart attack
The comprehensive study considered health data from more than 58,000 healthy women in the UK who reported on their cycle length at the start of a 12-year follow-up period.
The menstrual cycle is counted from the first day of one period to the first day of the next.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Associationwas based on extensive health data from the UK BioBank, a large-scale population health research initiative containing detailed genetic and health information from half a million UK participants.
The average age of the participants, none of whom had cardiovascular disease at the start of the study, was 46 years.
After 11 years and eight months, the researchers recorded 1,623 cardiovascular “events” in the participants, including 827 cases of coronary artery disease, 199 heart attacks, 271 strokes, 174 cases of heart failure, and 393 cases of atrial fibrillation, or an irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots.
About 1.7 percent of women with irregular cycles developed coronary artery disease (CAD), a result of plaque buildup on the walls of arteries, which then restricts the flow of oxygenated blood to the heart.
But only 1.3 percent of women with regular periods developed CHD.
And about 0.6 percent of those with regular cycles developed atrial fibrillation, compared to nearly 1 percent of those with irregular cycles.
The link between irregular menstrual cycles and heart disease isn’t entirely clear, although previous research has found that it’s closely linked to several risk factors for heart disease, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and polycystic ovary syndrome.
Hormonal fluctuations, which are fundamental to the menstrual cycle, also affect cardiovascular function. Estrogen, which decreases after ovulation but then gradually increases, has a protective effect on the heart.
Estrogen helps keep tissues and blood vessels supple and flexible, contributes to healthy blood flow, keeps blood pressure down, increases high-density cholesterol (good cholesterol) and absorbs harmful free radicals.
While irregular cycles are common, they are not healthy and actually reflect a malfunctioning hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis, the tightly regulated network of systems that control female reproduction.
dr Zhang said, “The relationship between menstrual cycle characteristics and adverse cardiovascular outcomes remains unclear.”
“Given the increasing prevalence of heart disease – affecting 45 percent of women in western countries – and the associated mortality, these risk factors must be examined.”