The risk doubles again in those who don’t have children.
Natasha Hinde Lifestyle Writer at The Huffington Post UK
This risk doubled if these women remained childless.
Researchers said the findings could help doctors “prepare these women for the possibility of premature or early menopause”.
It could also help experts devise early interventions for preventing and detecting chronic conditions that are linked to earlier menopause, such as heart disease.
The research, which is published in the journal Human Reproduction, looked at 51,450 women who had agreed to take part in nine studies in the UK, Scandinavia, Australia and Japan.
It is the first large scale, multi-national study to investigate the links between age at puberty and menopause and whether or not a woman has had children.
It found that women who started their periods aged 11 or younger had an 80% higher risk of experiencing premature menopause (which occurs before the age of 40), when compared with women whose first period occurred between the ages of 12 and 13.
They also had a 30% higher risk of early menopause (which occurs between the ages of 40-44 years old).
Women who had never been pregnant or who had never had children were twice as likely to experience a premature menopause and had a 30% increased risk of an early menopause.
This risk increased further for women whose periods started early if they had no children. The risk of premature or early menopause increased five-fold and two-fold, respectively.
It is worth noting that most of the women in the study were born before 1960, when contraception and fertility treatments were not widely available, so some caution is needed when applying these findings to the current generation of young and middle-aged women.
“If the findings from our study were incorporated into clinical guidelines for advising childless women from around the age of 35 years who had their first period aged 11 or younger, clinicians could gain valuable time to prepare these women for the possibility of premature or early menopause,” said lead researcher Professor Gita Mishra, director of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health at the University of Queensland, Australia.
“It provides an opportunity for clinicians to include women’s reproductive history alongside other lifestyle factors, such as smoking, when assessing the risk of early menopause, and enables them to focus health messages more effectively both earlier in life and for women at most risk.
“In addition, they could consider early strategies for preventing and detecting chronic conditions that are linked to earlier menopause, such as heart disease.”
She added: “The message for everyone to take on board from this and other similar studies is to think of the timing of menopause as a biological marker of reproductive ageing, which has implications for health and the risk of chronic diseases.
“So if we want to improve health outcomes in the later life, we need to be thinking about the risk factors through the whole of a woman’s life from the early years and the time of their first period through to their childbearing years and menopause.”