Warning to women who have children in their early 20s – you might be more at risk of a heart attack or stroke, study claims

  • Giving birth young, among other factors, can raise stroke and heart attack risk
  • Scientists at Imperial College London, Cambridge and Yale made the discovery 

Young mothers and those who go on to have large families are at greater risk of heart attack and stroke, a study found.

Women who started periods early, had their first child while young and who have multiple children are more likely to have cardiovascular problems, according to research.

Experts suggest doctors should consider these factors alongside conventional risks – such as poor diet and lack of exercise – when assessing women for heart related problems.

They warned treating heart issues as something that ‘mainly affects men’ is costing women their lives.

Coronary heart disease kills more than twice as many women as breast cancer each year, with more than 800,000 women in the UK living with the disease.

Young mothers and those who go on to have large families are at greater risk of heart attack and stroke, a study found (file photo of a young mum)

It has often been thought of a man’s disease as they are more likely to develop it at an earlier age – despite an estimated 380,000 female heart attack survivors in the UK alone.

In the largest analysis to look at how reproductive factors can influence women’s heart health, researchers at Imperial College London, Cambridge and Yale school of public health analysed data involving more than 100,000 women.

They found that earlier first birth, a higher number of live births, and earlier periods or menarche were associated with a higher risk of atrial fibrillation, coronary artery disease, heart failure, and stroke.

However, there was not an association between the age of menopause onset and cardiovascular disease.

Women are often mischaracterised as being at low risk for cardiovascular disease, leading to delays in diagnosis, the authors say.

READ MORE: Getting married ‘is good for your heart’: Male bachelors are twice as likely to die from heart failure, study claims 

Even when diagnosed, they tend to receive less targeted treatment than men, which can lead to poorer outcomes.

Dr Maddalena Ardissino, from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial, said the study ‘shows a clear link between reproductive factors and cardiovascular disease’.

‘This doesn’t mean that women should worry if they’ve had their period at a young age, or if they had an early first birth,’ she said.

‘Our research shows that the additional risk of cardiovascular disease can be minimised if traditional risk factors like BMI and blood pressure are well-controlled.

‘These findings highlight the need for doctors to monitor these risk factors closely in women and intervene where needed.’

Previous research has found women who start periods early have are more likely to have a higher body mass index (BMI), which can heighten the risk of health problems.

The increased risk for earlier first birth could be partly limited by acting on traditional cardiometabolic risk factors, such as BMI, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, they suggest in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, a consultant cardiologist and Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘The misconception that cardiovascular disease mostly affects men is costing women their health, and even their lives.

‘If we’re going to save more women’s lives, asking about periods and pregnancy must be routine when assessing every woman’s risk of heart disease and stroke.’

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