News & Events

Added to My Toolbox
Removed from My Toolbox
Added to My Toolbox
Removed from My Toolbox
Dec 23, 2014

Early Puberty Impacts Heart Risk in Women

Women that reached puberty early or late as a child have increased risk for heart disease later in life, finds study.

Women that reached puberty early or late as a child have increased risk for heart disease later in life, according to a large study conducted in the United Kingdom. 

Published in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation, this study followed 1.2 million middle-aged women to analyze the impact of puberty on cardiovascular risk. Although past research suggests that girls getting their first menstrual cycle at a very young age have increased risk for heart disease as an adult, most studies have been small and findings are mixed. Experts believe that the timing of puberty can influence cardiovascular and metabolic health in both childhood and adulthood, but more evidence is needed to understand this relationship. 

To learn more, researchers analyzed data from the Million Women Study, which includes more than a million women between the ages of 50 and 64. Among study participants without any history of heart disease, researchers asked women to report when they had their first menstrual cycle, ranging from less than 10 years old to later than 17 years old. Investigators also collected information on heart health and followed women for more than 11 years, tracking outcomes. 

Among the 1.2 million women included in the study, one quarter of women had their first menstrual cycle at the age of 13, 4% of women had their first cycle before the age of 10 and just 1% of women had their first menstrual cycle after 17 years old. Interestingly, women at either end of the spectrum had greater risk of heart disease compared to those who had their first menstrual cycle somewhere in the middle. Compared to women who had their first menstrual cycle at 13, women hitting this stage before 10 years old had 27% greater risk of heart disease and women experiencing their first menstrual cycle after 17 years of age had 23% greater risk of heart disease. 

Based on these findings, researchers believe that hitting puberty very early or late may increase cardiovascular risk in women later in life. Authors also add that since childhood obesity is linked to early menstrual cycles in girls, public health strategies to reduce childhood obesity are especially important.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What are significant differences in the cardiovascular health of women vs. men?

  • While additional research is needed further understand the cardiovascular differences between men and women, one significant variation is among heart attack symptoms. For men, the most common sign of a heart attack is pain or pressure in the chest. Women, on the other hand, are more likely than men to have unusual or "atypical" signs of a heart attack, and some of these symptoms may come and go. The danger is that many women are unaware of these differences in symptoms, and will often disregard a heart attack for fatigue or the flu. There are additional recognized differences between men and women, including the time at which the disease sets in, severity of shared risk factors and the presence of unique risk factors associated with hormonal changes and pregnancy.
  • How can I prevent heart disease?

  • The best ways to help prevent heart disease is by eating a healthy diet, staying physically active, quitting smoking (if a current smoker) and maintaining a healthy weight. Patients should also know their numbers, including blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose, which are important to heart health.

Related

Women Neglected by Heart Disease Prevention Efforts

Heart disease kills more women than men each year, yet many still think it’s a “man’s disease.”

Hormone Therapy: Do Risks Outweigh the Benefits?

Study advises against use of hormone therapy for chronic disease prevention, as it may increase long-term health risks.

Advances in Diagnosis of Heart Disease in Women

Gender-specific research has led to significant advancements in the diagnosis of heart disease in women, according to a recent statement.

Dramatic Impact of Unhealthy Lifestyle on Heart Health

Study finds that unhealthy lifestyle choices can explain almost three-fourths of heart disease cases in young women.

Women with Preterm Deliveries Face Increased Heart Risk

Mothers of preemies are encouraged to have heart disease risk factors closely monitored.