An earlier first birth, a higher number of live births, and starting periods at a younger age are all linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular problems in women, according to new research.
Researchers from Imperial College London, University of Cambridge, and Yale School of Public Health found that an earlier first birth, a higher number of live births, and earlier menarche were associated with a higher risk of atrial fibrillation, coronary artery disease, heart failure, and stroke in women.
However, it did not find an association between the age of menopause and cardiovascular disease. The researchers also found that much of the increased risk for earlier menarche resulted from this factor being associated with women having a higher body mass index (BMI).
This means that lowering a person's BMI could help to reduce this risk. The increased risk for earlier first birth could be partly limited by acting on traditional cardiometabolic risk factors, such as BMI, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
The findings, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, are based on previous studies involving more than 100,000 women and highlights the need for doctors to monitor these risk factors closely in women and intervene where needed.
Cardiovascular disease has often been thought of as a man's disease, as men are more likely to develop it at an earlier age than women. However, this group of diseases is a serious problem for women, the experts said.
"If we're going to save more women's lives, asking about periods and pregnancy must be routine when assessing every woman's risk of heart disease and stroke," said Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, consultant cardiologist at the British Heart Foundation.
"Women are often mischaracterised as being at low risk for cardiovascular disease, leading to delays in diagnosis. Even when they are diagnosed, they tend to receive less targeted treatment than men," said lead author Dr Maddalena Ardissino, from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial.
However, Ardissino cautioned that women should not worry if they've had their period at a young age, or if they had an early first birth. "Our research shows that the additional risk of cardiovascular disease can be minimised if traditional risk factors like BMI and blood pressure are well-controlled," Ardissino said.