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Irregular Menstrual Cycle? Watch for Heart Problems Later On

If your periods are irregular, listen up. You might be more likely than others to have heart issues in the future.

The connection doesn’t make sense at first glance. Short or long menstrual cycles seem harmless enough. It just so happens, though, that if you have an unusual flow schedule during your child-bearing years, you might be looking at cardiovascular disease at a later age.

Menstrual Cycle-Cardio Connection

Heart issues are the No. 1 cause of death in women, and findings from a recent major study add information as to why. The research followed more than 58,000 women who had no heart issues for nearly a dozen years. In the end, those whose cycles were irregular were 19 percent more likely to develop coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure, heart attack or atrial fibrillation.

The results get yet more specific. If you have a short cycle, you’re 29 percent more likely to get one of the cardiovascular diseases. Long cycle? Your situation is a bit better: You’re 11 percent more likely than the average woman to have heart challenges. The chances of having atrial fibrillation was high for both groups: 38 percent greater for short-cycle women, 30 percent for long-cycle ones.

Mostly white women, all 40 through 69, were involved in the study, meaning the findings may be limited to certain segments of the population.

Be Your Own Advocate

If you’re 25 and bleeding for 10 days every cycle, or 45 and menstruating for a quick three days, you’ll likely shrug off this information. That’s understandable. You’ll want to push this issue out of your mind.

You shouldn’t, though. If you keep ahead of it by looping your medical team in, and leading a heart-healthy life, you can change your outcome for the better.

Take a small action first: Tell your doctors about your irregular cycle and about these studies. Both your OB-GYN and your primary care provider can evaluate your blood pressure and cholesterol regularly over the years, keeping tabs on even small changes.

How To Take Care of Your Heart

The only way to make your cycle more regular is to take birth control pills. That doesn’t necessarily address the underlying problem though; it might not mitigate the increased risk of developing cardiovascular issues. If that’s an option for you and you want to try it, talk to your OB-GYN about finding the right prescription.

More important, consider living a healthier lifestyle. You can take pills to control high cholesterol and high blood pressure, but choosing heart-healthy foods and activities is the best way to keep your body in tip-top shape.

Cardiovascular disease takes time to develop. If you eat a lot of high-fat foods and don’t exercise much, you’ll build up plaque within your arteries. That will make them get thick and hard, which is called atherosclerosis.

  • Change your diet. Choose whole foods and low-fat proteins. For example, opt for a lunch sandwich on multigrain bread instead of white, filled with a lean meat like turkey instead of a processed one like salami. Have a side of green salad or fruit salad instead of a bag of chips.
  • Move, move, move. To keep your heart healthy, end your couch potato days. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park at the far end of the parking lot so you have to walk farther. Stand at your desk instead of sitting while you’re on the phone. Stand up and stretch during commercials while watching TV.
  • Make time for sleep. If you want to be heart-healthy in your 60s, build a solid seven to nine hours of sleep into your schedule now. That gives your blood pressure plenty of time to get and stay lower every night.

Take this as a friendly warning. After all, little is known so far about exactly why irregular periods in younger women are related to cardiovascular issues in older ones. This is like a weather report by a meteorologist. If the TV news report predicts a 19 percent increased risk for hail, you’d park your car undercover so it doesn’t get dents. Similarly, why not go under cover with a healthier diet and exercise regime, and inform your healthcare providers about your risk factors? It’s always better to be tipped off.

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