Young mums, along with women who have a high number of children and those who start their periods earlier, all have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, a major new study has found.
The research, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, was carried out by a team at Imperial College London who looked at data from more than 100,000 women across the world.
“This study shows a clear link between reproductive factors and cardiovascular disease,” explained lead author Dr Maddalena Ardissino.
“These findings highlight the need for doctors to monitor these risk factors closely in women and intervene where needed.”
According to the British Heart Foundation, women in the UK are twice as likely to die from coronary disease – the leading cause of heart attacks – than breast cancer. Yet, the foundation adds that coronary disease is often seen as a “man’s problem”.
“Many of the previous studies on cardiovascular disease have focused on men,” said senior author of the new study, Dr Fu Siong Ng.
“But our research shows there are sex-specific factors that influence the risk for women. We cannot say exactly how much these factors increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
“Our study shows reproductive history is important. It points towards a causal impact. We need to understand more about these factors to make sure women get the best possible care.”
To collate their findings, the researchers used a statistical technique called Mendelian Randomisation that identifies genetic variants linked to potential risk factors.
The researchers found that much of the increased risk from early first periods resulted from being overweight. They said that lowering a girl's BMI (body mass index) could be a protective measure.
They added that the increased risk for young mothers came from traditional cardiometabolic risk factors such as BMI, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
“Women are often mischaracterised as being at low risk for cardiovascular disease, leading to delays in diagnosis,” Dr Ardissino adds. “Even when they are diagnosed, they tend to receive less targeted treatment than men.
“This doesn’t mean women should worry if they've had their period at a young age – or if they had an early first birth. Our research shows the additional risk of cardiovascular disease can be minimised if traditional risk factors like BMI and blood pressure are well-controlled.”
According to the NHS, the main causes of coronary heart disease include smoking, having high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol, high levels of lipoprotein, not exercising regularly, and having diabetes.
Being obese or overweight can also be a contributing factor, as can having a family history of coronary heart disease.
Lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking, eating healthy food and exercising more often can help prevent people from developing the disease.
Additional reporting by SWNS.
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