Women who started menstruating early may have more chronic pain as adults

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A new study by Wolters Kluwer Health indicated that women who got their first period early reported more chronic pain than those who got their period later.

The study, published in the journal PAIN, was led by Charlotte Lund, PhD, fellow in Epidemiology at Oslo University Hospital. The study involved 12,000 women at an average age of 55, living in  northern Norway. Patients were asked what age they were during their first period as well as their chronic pain incidences and intensity. Researchers examined four pain characteristics including pain duration, pain intensity, and episode frequency, focusing on 10 body regions.

Results showed that, on average, participants were 13 years old at menarche and 40 percent of them reported experiences of chronic pain. The study found that those who were younger at the age of menarche were more likely to experience chronic pain. After correcting for factors such as body mass index, age, and economic status of childhood household, the study estimated that for every one-year delay of menarche, the risk of chronic pain decreased by two percent. In the study, the reported aged of menarche ranged from nine to 18 and the absolute risk of chronic pain between these ages differed by 12.6 percent.

Researchers found that early menarche was associated with increased chronic pain in each body region assessed, especially in the neck, abdomen, and arms. In addition, those who got their period earlier were more likely to have longer durations of pain. Researchers also concluded those with early menarche were at higher risk for chronic widespread pain (CWP).

This study found strong associations between chronic pain and age of menarche, offering further insights into why the rates of chronic pain are higher among women, according to the study’s authors.

"The causes of sex differences in pain are poorly understood," Lund and coauthors said in a statement. "However, one reason might be the different hormone exposure in the sexes throughout the lifetime."