Irregular menstrual cycles linked to premature death

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Inconsistent periods are more than a nuisance.

A new study, published in the BMJ, reveals an association between irregular menstrual cycles and premature death.

During the 24-year reporting period, Harvard researchers tracked period regularity among 79,505 women, grouped by ages 14 to 17; 18 to 22; and 29 to 46. Participants had no prior history of heart disease, cancer or diabetes at the outset of the study, and were controlled for diet, exercise habits and mental-health history.

By the end, 1,975 of the women passed away before age 70 — 894 from cancer and 172 from cardiovascular disease. Among them, researchers found irregular periods to be notably prevalent.

Compared to women with regular menstrual cycles, defined by a length of 26 to 31 days, those who reported irregularity in the 18 to 22 age range showed a 37% higher risk of early death. In that same group, even those who consistently saw their period every 40 days, which is considered an “extreme cycle length,” was at a 34% higher risk.

Scientists also found a positive correlation between period irregularity and cancer rates among the groups aged 14 to 17 and 18 to 22. Meanwhile, older women with erratic cycles tended to show higher rates of cardiovascular disease.

“Importantly, these associations are not restricted to polycystic ovary syndrome or other gynecological or endocrine conditions that might result in irregular menstrual periods,” study author Dr. Jorge E. Chavarro told the New York Times.

In their conclusion, the researchers urge primary care doctors to consider the patient’s menstrual cycle characteristics as significant indicators of health status.

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