A study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has suggested that periods may be a marker for general health, with those who experience irregular periods at greater risk of dying before 70.
Along with colleagues, Professor Jorge E Chavarro at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston looked at data 79,505 healthy pre-menopausal women from a long-term research project called Nurses’ Health Study II.
The women in this group’s ages, weights, lifestyle and family medical histories were taken into account, along with their reported cycle length.
A standard cycle length is 28 days, although anything between 26 days and 31 days was also considered normal.
Those who reported an irregular cycle or one that lasted more than 40 days were found to be at greater risk of premature death, and for women aged between 2 and 46, those with irregular periods were 39% more likely to die prematurely than women reporting very regular cycles.
It is thought that the cause of the irregular bleeding may be partly to blame, as those with polycystic ovaries (PCOS) have previously been found to be at greater risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer of the womb.
Professor Chavarro added, however: I would say that while PCOS is part of why we are seeing this relation, it is only the extreme of a continuum of how the production of ovarian hormones is controlled.’
Professor Adam Balen, of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists added: ‘The important point illustrated by this study is that menstrual regularity and reproductive health provides a window into overall long term health, and measures to improve the health and wellbeing of young women with an irregular menstrual cycle may also enhance lifelong health.
‘Therefore young women with irregular periods need a thorough assessment not only of their hormones and metabolism but also of their lifestyle so that they can be advised about steps that they can take which might enhance their overall health.’
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