Story at a glance
- A study lasting more than 20 years recorded a link between irregular menstruation and early death.
- The authors say that a woman’s menstrual cycle should be monitored as part of overall health.
A recent study spanning more than two decades found that women who reported experiencing irregular menstrual cycles were more likely to experience higher premature mortality rates than women with a more regular cycle.
Conducted by multiple academics and published in the British Medical Journal, the study observed 116,429 registered female nurses beginning in 1989, each of whom was between 25 to 42 years old. Each subject would submit questionnaires about their lifestyle, diet and medical history on a two-year basis.
The baseline of the study compared the participants' menstrual cycles as adults to when they first began their periods, reporting the average duration and regularity of the menstrual period.
Pregnant or lactating women were excluded from the study to eliminate any confounding variables.
Overall, 79,505 women subjects were included in the final sample, each of whom had no preexisting medical conditions.
The results indicated that women who reported irregular menstrual cycles or no periods were likely to have health complications like hypertension, high blood cholesterol levels, hirsutism, endometriosis, as well as a family history of Type 2 diabetes.
Ultimately, 1,975 deaths were documented before age 70 — consistent with the World Health Organization’s definition of a premature death. Some 894 of these participants died of cancer and 172 from cardiovascular disease.
When analyzing the participants’ health data and mortality, researchers found a greater risk of an early death for participants who reported irregularity with their menstrual cycles.
“Our study found that irregular and long menstrual cycles, whether in adolescence or adulthood, are associated with a greater risk of premature mortality, which is slightly stronger among women who currently smoke,” the study concluded.
Given that the analysis was an observational study that relied on participant feedback, causation cannot be established between irregular periods and premature death. Additionally, the sample was composed of only white women.
The authors note that the results should be frequently taken into consideration by physicians when checking a woman’s overall health.
“Our results emphasize the need for primary care providers to include menstrual cycle characteristics throughout the reproductive years as additional vital signs in assessing women’s general health status and point to potential lifestyle interventions to manage risk among women with menstrual cycle disorders that might have long term adverse health consequences,” the authors concluded.