What Does Your Period Have to Do With Your Blood Pressure?

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“How old were you when you started menstruating?” is a question women are asked on just about every health form they'll ever fill out. Now, a study in Hypertension Research shows that early-onset menstruation — periods that begin before age 11 — is associated with greater risk for high blood pressure (hypertension) later in life.

Researchers at the University of Georgia in Athens found that this link exists independent of other hypertension risk factors, such as an unhealthy, high-sodium diet; a sedentary lifestyle; and medical conditions that raise blood pressure, like diabetes. Previous studies provided inconsistent results: Some pointed to early menarche and others to late-onset menstruation (ages 14 to 16, depending on whether a young woman has other signs of puberty).

For their study, the Georgia researchers analyzed survey data on nearly 8,000 women in China, including information about menstrual history and high blood pressure risk factors. They found that early development of a woman’s reproductive system compromises cardiovascular system development to some extent, increasing her risk for high blood pressure as she gets older.

According to the researchers, the higher risk is minimal when other high blood pressure risk factors, including higher-than-normal BMI (body mass index), are controlled.