The Washington Post
Worldwide genetic data links age of first period to some heart-related problems, researchers say
When did you get your first period?
The question is common in gynecologists’ offices, but research suggests cardiologists should be asking it, too.
In a study published last month in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers write that they’ve confirmed links between the genes that predict a woman’s age at first menstruation and menopause, age of first birth and number of live births with their risk of cardiovascular disease, strokes and other heart-related conditions.
Using genetic data from over 100,000 women worldwide, researchers determined that a variety of reproductive factors were associated with higher risk for atrial fibrillation, coronary artery disease, heart failure and stroke.
Women whose genetics predicted a lower age the first time they gave birth had 1.49 times the odds of coronary artery disease than those without those gene variations, and 1.25 times the odds of stroke. And women whose genetics predicted more than two live births had 2.91 times the odds of atrial fibrillation than their counterparts.
But the data also showed that women can modify the risks. Controlling their body mass index, cholesterol levels and systolic blood pressure could reduce the dangers for those whose genes
predicted that they’d be younger when they first gave birth. Likewise, BMI could affect the risk of women whose genetics predicted they’d have their first period before turning 12.
The research did not show any association between age of menopause and atrial fibrillation.
Women can’t control their genetics — and researchers say there’s no need to worry if you got your period or had your first child at a young age. Rather, they say, the research adds sex-specific factors to the list of variables that doctors should consider. It also means that the risk factors that can be modified, such as BMI and cholesterol, should be better monitored.
“The misconception that cardiovascular disease mostly affects men is costing women their health, and even their lives,” said Sonya Babu-narayan, associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation, which funded the study, in a news release.
“If we’re going to save more women’s lives, asking about periods and pregnancy must be routine when assessing every woman’s risk of heart disease and stroke,” she said.