In 2015, an estimated 3.5 billion adults worldwide had high blood pressure, and the World Health Organization considers hypertension a global public health issue.
Among the many risk factors for high blood pressure, a team of researchers at the University of Georgia have discovered that the age a woman begins menstruation is associated with having high blood pressure later in her life.
The study, which appeared in Hypertension Research, aimed to shed some light on how the age of menarche and menopause may affect chronic disease later in life. Existing research on the issue has yielded inconsistent answers.
“Some studies suggested that early menarche increased the risk of hypertension in late adulthood, while other studies indicated that late onset of menarche was associated with hypertension in late adulthood,” said Ms. Luqi Shen, a doctoral student at University of Georgia College of Public Health and study author.
The researchers evaluated survey data of 7,893 Chinese women from the Chinese Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study, which included information about biological, demographic and lifestyle factors that may contribute to high blood pressure.
They found that early onset menstruation significantly increased risk of hypertension in late adulthood, even after controlling for independent social economic factors, lifestyle behaviors, and other metabolic measures.
Ms. Shen says the link may be explained by the rate our body systems develop. When one system develops early or experiences a delay, that can have an impact on other body systems.
“Women with early menarche may have less than optimal developed cardiovascular system, therefore, had higher risk for adverse outcomes, such as hypertension in late adulthood,” said Ms. Shen. “So, the association of early menarche with hypertension is as expected in this population.”
However, they did not find a strong connection between age of menopause and blood pressure once they controlled for other lifestyle factors.
“Interestingly, this association is entirely explained by body mass index,” said Ms. Shen. “This suggests that body weight management around menopausal stage is critical in blood pressure management for women at menopausal age, and we believe this finding is not specific to Chinese women and may be applicable to women in all countries.”
The study contributes to a growing body of research seeking to determine how experiences in early life may affect long-term health, but Ms. Shen cautions that biological mechanisms underlying these associations may be alleviated by a healthy living environment and access to good healthcare.