Getting your period is a moment you either look forward to or dread, but now there's even more reason to fear Aunt Flow.
A new study has found that girls who get their periods before the age of 12 have a 10 per cent increased risk of heart disease and stroke later on in life compared to girls who get them when they're 13 or older.
Published in the BMJ journal "Heart," researchers analyzed data which looked at reproductive risk factors such as early menopause, complications with pregnancy, and hysterectomies, and their links to cardiovascular disease.
The health of 267,440 women — who had an average age of 56 at the start of the study — and 215,088 men, who did not have cardiovascular disease at the start of the study, were tracked from 2006 until March 2016 (or until they had their first heart attack or stroke).
Study participants filled in questionnaires on topics such as their lifestyle, their environment, and their medical history, and took tests that measured their health.
The study noted that "the association between the number of children and cardiovascular disease was similar for men and women, suggesting that social, psychological, and behavioural factors may be more important than biological ones."
Researchers also noted that the study is observational and they had no firm conclusions on the cause and effect analyzed.
What are cardiovascular diseases (CVD)?
Cardiovascular diseases, or CVD, are defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as disorders of the heart and blood vessels.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada says that heart disease affects 1.3 million Canadians, and the WHO says cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally.
The study's researchers advised that women should get more cardiovascular screenings when they're early in their reproductive cycle, if they've had a hysterectomy, or have a history of unfavourable reproductive events, which could delay or prevent the onset of the disease.
Early menstruation comes with other risks
According to Dr. Amanda Black, an ob-gyn and associate professor at the University of Ottawa, the median age a woman gets her period is 12.3, but notes that there's a range that goes as low as eight years old and as high as 15, reports Canadian Living.
Last year, NPR reported on a study that found women who had their period at age 11 or younger were 80 per cent more likely to have premature menopause. The risk was even more likely for women who had early menstruation and no children.
Other effects can have a more immediate impact, notes the Ruby Cup blog, which cites studies linking early menstruation with physical and sexual violence and teenage pregnancy.
"An early first period puts a tag on a girl that might be far from ready to become an 'adult woman.' Not only she may not be ready to behave in a certain way yet, she may choose to never adopt the persona that society defines as 'womanly,'" the site notes.
"Society nevertheless projects a multitude of pressures on young girls who mature at an early age," Canadian author and academic Kathleen O'Grady wrote in a 2008 essay for the Canadian Women's Health Network.
More evidence linking early menstruation to cardiovascular problems
Previous research has looked at menstruation and heart disease, such as the 2006 report, "Amenorrhea: evaluation and treatment." The report found that amenorrhea — the absence of menstrual periods — was linked to multiple conditions including an increased risk for heart disease.
Also on HuffPost: