HAVE YOU ever stopped to think about what your menstrual cycle is telling you about your health?
Now might be a good time to pay attention to it as new research has found that women with abnormal menstrual cycles have a higher riskdeveloping cardiovascular disease, a heart attack or atrial fibrillation.
Cardiovascular disease is a general term for conditions affecting your heart or blood vessels and one of main causes of death and disability in the UK, according to NHS guidance.
Meanwhile, a heart attack occurs when blood flow to the organ is suddenly blocked – usually by a clot – and atrial fibrillation is defined by an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate.
In a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers said regular menstrual cycles tended to last between 22 and 34 days, reflecting "normal functioning of the connected hormone systems among the hypothalamus, pituitary gland and ovaries".
Anything above or beyond that was defined as 'not normal'.
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The study's senior author Huijie Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., chief physician and professor at Nanfang Hospital of Southern Medical University in China, said increasing prevalence of heart disease in Western countries – with 45 per cent of women affected – had compelled the research team to examine the link between certain menstrual cycle characteristic and adverse cardiovascular events.
Researchers analysed UK Biobank data from 58,056 women with no history of cardiovascular disease over 12 years, whose average age was 46 at the start of the study period.
As researchers followed up with the women over the 12 years leading up to November 2020, more than 1,600 cardiovascular events were noted among them, including coronary heart disease, heart attack, atrial fibrillation, stroke or heart failure.
Defining a regular menstrual cycle as between 22 to 34 days, they determined that women whose menstrual cycles lasted less than 21 days or longer than 35 days were associated with a 19 per cent higher risk of heart disease.
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They also had a 40 per cent higher risk of atrial fibrillation compared to women with normal cycles.
Women whose cycle lasted less than 21 days had a 29 per cent higher risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack, atrial fibrillation, stroke and heart failure.
Meanwhile, those with over 35-day-long cycles had an 11 per cent higher risk of those same cardiovascular events.
When it came to atrial fibrillation, shorter menstrual cycles were associated with a 38 per cent higher risk and longer ones had a 30 per cent higher risk, compared with regular length menstrual cycles..
“Our analysis indicates that women with menstrual cycle dysfunction may experience adverse cardiovascular health consequences, therefore, we need to raise awareness that individuals with irregular menstrual cycle patterns may be more likely to develop heart disease,” Dr Zhang said.
“These findings have important public health implications for the prevention of atrial fibrillation and heart attack among women and highlight the importance of monitoring menstrual cycle characteristics throughout a woman’s reproductive life.”
There were some limitations to the study, as it relied on participants to interpret whether on not their cycle was irregular.
And because of the age of participants, researchers couldn't rule out the potential impact of the menopause on their menstrual cycles.
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Research conducted in 2020 claimed that women irregular or long menstrual cycles were more likely to die before the age of 70.
Health experts have said that the length of your period is dependent on a whole host of lifestyle factors, the sort of contraception you're on, stress or even how much sleep or exercise you've been getting.
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