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Child Abuse Could Affect Menstrual Cycle

Update Date: Jul 27, 2012 12:32 PM EDT

Could enduring abuse as a child have an effect on how early the menstrual cycle starts?

Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine have found an association between childhood physical and sexual abuse and menstrual periods.

The findings are published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Researchers examined almost 70,000 women.

Women who reported childhood sexual abuse were at a 49 percent risk for early periods compared to those who were not abused, the researchers found. Periods are considered "early' when they happen prior to age 11 years old. There was a 50 percent increase in risk for late periods - menstrual periods after age 15 years among women who reported severe physical abuse in childhood.

Lead author Renée Boynton-Jarrett said the findings are noteworthy.

"In our study, child abuse was associated with both accelerated and delayed age at menarche and importantly, these associations vary by type of abuse, which suggest that child abuse does not have a homogenous effect on health outcomes," Boynton-Jarrett said. "There is a need for future research to explore characteristics of child abuse that may influence health outcomes including type, timing and severity of abuse, as well as the social context in which the abuse occurs."

In 2005, it is estimated that 3.3 million referrals of child abuse or neglect were received by public social service or Child Protective Services agencies. Of these referrals, 899,000 children were confirmed to be victims of abuse or neglect, meaning about 12 out of every 1,000 children up to age 18 in the United States were found to be victims of maltreatment in 2005.

Researchers say child abuse is associated with a significant health burden over the life course. Early periods has been associated with risks such as cardiovascular disease, metabolic dysfunction, cancer and depression, while late periods have been associated with lower bone mineral density and depression.

"We need to work toward better understanding how child abuse influences health and translate these research findings into clinical practice and public health strategies to improve the well-being of survivors of child abuse," added Boynton-Jarrett.

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