A recent study found that reproductive factors have a direct link to increasing a woman’s risk of heart attack and stroke.
Researchers from Imperial College London, the University of Cambridge and the Yale School of Public Health led the largest analysis of how reproductive factors can influence women’s heart health.
They studied data from more than 100,000 women that showed a causal link between the genes that predict reproductive factors and the risk of multiple cardiovascular diseases.
Women who started periods early, had their first child while young and who have multiple children are at higher risk of atrial fibrillation, coronary artery disease, heart failure, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, the study reported.
The research showed that much of the increased risk leading to an earlier first menstrual cycle resulted from this factor being associated with women having a higher body mass index (BMI).
It also noted that an increased risk for earlier first birth could be partly hindered by traditional cardiometabolic risk factors, such as BMI, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
There was no link between the age of menopause onset and cardiovascular disease.
“While we cannot say exactly how much these factors increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, our study shows that reproductive history is important and it points towards a causal impact,” said Dr. Fu Siong Ng, who is from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London and senior author for the study.
“We need to understand more about these factors to make sure that women get the best possible care.”
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States as more than 60 million women (44%) in the country are living with some form of heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Experts suggest doctors should consider these factors alongside other known risks when assessing women’s health and warned that treating heart issues as something that mainly affects men puts women’s lives at risk.
They claimed that women are often mistakenly identified as low risk for cardiovascular disease, potentially leading to delays in diagnosis and a tendency to receive less targeted treatment than men, which can lead to poorer outcomes.
“The misconception that cardiovascular disease mostly affects men is costing women their health, and even their lives,” said Dr. Sonya Babu-Narayan, consultant cardiologist and an associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation.