Women’s reproductive health linked to risk of heart disease and stroke

Researchers at The George Institute, Oxford, drew on data from the UK Biobank, a large, population-based study of more than half a million men and women. They found that women who had started their periods before the age of 12 had a 10% greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease than those who had been 13 or older, while those who went through the menopause before the age of 47 had a 33% higher risk of developing heart disease and 42% greater risk of stroke.

"This study clarifies the mixed findings of previous research, and underlines the life-long impact of women’s reproductive health," said lead author Dr Sanne Peters, Research Fellow in Epidemiology at The George Institute, Oxford.

"Our research suggests 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."

The early onset of periods in girls has been linked to childhood obesity, and several studies – including a prior study among these women – show that early menarche is also associated with obesity in adulthood, a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease. However, there is no straightforward link.

"Our findings show that the risk of developing cardiovascular disease increases for both women of healthy weight and women who are overweight or obese, which suggests 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," said Peters.

Interestingly, the study found that the risk of developing cardiovascular disease increases by 3% for both women and men with each child parented. Women with children have a 21% higher risk of heart disease than those who don’t have children, while men with children have a 13% higher risk of heart disease than those without. However, neither men nor women with children are at greater risk of having a stroke.