Women who permanently suffer from menstrual disorders could die before the age of 70, warn researchers from Harvard University.
Previous studies have shown that irregular and excessively long menstrual periods are common in women at reproductive age.
But these disorders reflect poor general health and are associated with an increased risk of serious chronic diseases, such as ovarian cancer, ischemic heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and mental disorders, as scientists revealed while studying the link between cycle disorders, menstrual and premature death (before age 70).
Researchers analyzed data on nearly 80,000 American nurses, and the average age at the time the data collection began, or in 1989, was 38 years. At the start of the study, none of the participants had cancer, diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Women reported the normal length and regularity of their menstrual cycle at the ages of 14-17, 18-22, and 29-46 years. The investigations were carried out for 24 years. Every two years, the nurses provided data on their lifestyle, nutrition and health. During this time, nearly 2,000 participants died before their 70th birthday.
Analysis of the collected data showed that taking into account all the factors that can affect life expectancy, women who have always experienced irregular periods and long monthly cycles have a higher risk of premature death than those who have never experienced these disorders.
Thus, participants who reported that between the ages of 18 and 22, and 29 and 46 years of age, their interval between menstruations was generally longer than 40 days, were more likely to die prematurely than women whose cycle length was between 26 and 31 normal days. In most cases, cardiovascular diseases caused premature death. The relationship between menstrual disorders and premature death was especially high among female smokers.
Researchers are confident that, based on these results, the characteristics of menstrual cycles should be considered as an indicator of the body’s vital functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, etc. The regularity of menstruation reflects woman’s overall health during her reproductive age, and doctors should pay close attention to this indicator when examining patients.
At the same time, these results should be interpreted with caution given the marginal statistical significance of the evidence, the study authors state. In addition, most of the participants were white women in the same profession, and this career (i.e. Medicine) requires irregular work hours, which can affect long-term health and disrupt menstrual regularity.
This study does not imply to all women who have experienced irregular menstrual cycles, says Kim Jonas, a reproductive physiologist at the UK Public Research University, King’s College, who was not personally involved in the research, but analyzed its results.
“There is a lot more research to be done in this area and many factors are likely to be at play,” she explained.
So does her colleague at King’s College London, maternal scientist Rachel Tribe.
“No interests/conflicts to declare related to this study,” she cautions.
According to Jonas, this study aims to raise awareness about menstrual irregularity, improve education and encourage women and doctors to consider the menstrual cycle when assessing health status.
Likewise, researchers emphasize that premature death has not been caused by irregular menstruation, but that is only an indication of health problems that may be related to deaths before 70 years of age. In addition, they admitted that the research, despite having the participation of so many experimental subjects, has its inherent limitations, which must also be taken into account when interpreting the results.
The results of their studies were published in the journal The BMJ.