Have you ever thought about what your menstrual cycle tells you about your health?
Now might be a good time to pay attention, as new research has revealed that women with “abnormal” menstrual cycles are at higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease, a heart attack or atrial fibrillation.
Cardiovascular disease is a general term for diseases of the heart or blood vessels and is a leading cause of death and disability in the UK NHS guidance.
A heart attack, on the other hand, occurs when blood flow to the organ is suddenly blocked – usually by a blood clot – and atrial fibrillation is characterized by an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate.
In a study published in Journal of the American Heart AssociationAccording to researchers, regular menstrual cycles tend to last between 22 and 34 days, which “reflects the normal functioning of the linked endocrine systems between the hypothalamus, pituitary and ovaries.”
Anything beyond that was defined as “not normal.”
The study’s senior author, Huijie Zhang, MD, Ph.D., chief physician and professor at Nanfang Hospital of Southern Medical University in China, said the increasing prevalence of heart disease in Western countries — which affects 45 percent of women — have prompted the research The team is investigating the association between certain features of the menstrual cycle and adverse cardiovascular events.
Researchers analyzed data from the UK Biobank of 58,056 women with no history of cardiovascular disease over a 12-year period, whose median age at the start of the study period was 46 years.
When the researchers followed the women over the 12 years through November 2020, they were found to have more than 1,600 cardiovascular events, including coronary artery disease, heart attack, atrial fibrillation, stroke or heart failure.
They defined a regular menstrual cycle as between 22 and 34 days and found that women whose menstrual cycles lasted fewer than 21 days or longer than 35 days were associated with a 19 percent higher risk of heart disease.
They also had a 40 percent higher risk of atrial fibrillation compared to women with normal cycles.
Women whose cycles lasted less than 21 days had a 29 percent higher risk of coronary artery disease, heart attack, atrial fibrillation, stroke and heart failure.
Meanwhile, those with cycles longer than 35 days had an 11 percent greater risk of the same cardiovascular events.
When it came to atrial fibrillation, shorter menstrual cycles were associated with a 38 percent higher risk and longer menstrual cycles with a 30 percent higher risk than menstrual cycles of normal length.
“Our analysis shows that women with a menstrual cycle disorder can have negative effects on cardiovascular health. Therefore, we need to raise awareness that individuals with irregular menstrual cycle patterns may be more likely to develop heart disease,” said Dr. Zhang.
“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.”
There were some limitations to the study as it relied on the participants assessing whether their cycles were irregular.
And because of the participants’ ages, the researchers couldn’t rule out the possible effects of menopause on their menstrual cycles.
Research from 2020 found that women with irregular or long menstrual cycles are more likely to die before age 70.
Health experts say the length of your period depends on a whole range of lifestyle factors, the type of birth control you use, stress, or even how much sleep or exercise you get.