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Irregular periods linked to heart disease

Women with a history of irregular menstrual periods have a higher risk of developing heart disease than other women.

Irregular periods linked to heart disease

Women with a history of irregular menstrual periods have a higher risk of developing heart disease than other women.

It's known that women with a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) have higher risks of heart disease and type 2 diabetes than other women their age. In PCOS, the ovaries produce higher-than-normal amounts of male hormones and menstrual periods are irregular or completely absent. To look into the association between irregular menses and heart disease risk, researchers followed 23,000 Dutch women, aged 50 years or above, for a decade. Of these, 4000 women reported a history of irregular periods and 150 out these were diagnosed with coronary heart disease. Out of the 17,000 participants who reported having either regular monthly periods (between 27 and 29 days) or regularly short cycles, 530 developed coronary heart disease.

Those reporting irregular periods in the past were 28 percent more likely to develop heart disease as compared to other women with regular monthly periods. Higher risk was not seen among women who reported regularly long menstrual cycles (30 or more days between periods) or regularly short cycles (26 or fewer days between periods).  Despite their relatively higher risk, though, the large majority of women with irregular periods did not develop heart problems during the study period.

These findings suggest that even in the absence of PCOS, less-extreme irregularities in the timing of menstrual periods may be related to heart disease risk. The potential reasons, however, are unclear. Since oestrogen is believed to have a generally protective effect on the heart and arteries - and PCOS is marked by hormone imbalance – the researchers measured hormone levels in a subgroup of their study participants and found no evidence that altered hormone levels explained the association between irregular periods and heart disease risk. Other factors such as body weight, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol also did not account for the link.

The study shows that women with a history of irregular cycles have a higher risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, though this association could not be explained by metabolic risk factors or altered hormone levels. More research is needed to confirm these findings, and their cause.
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