Mercy Health - Cincinnati Research Confirms that Irregular Menstruation and Larger Waist Size During a Woman's Youth are Predictive of Future Health Issues

(CINCINNATI; March 17, 2015) – Recently published research from Mercy Health - Cincinnati has confirmed that young women aged 14-19 who have irregular periods (42 days or more between periods) or who start their periods at age 10 or earlier and have a larger waist circumference are at greater risk of developing serious health issues in adulthood. These issues include:
• Type 2 diabetes
• Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a health condition that affects women’s menstrual cycles, ability to have children, hormones, heart, blood vessels and appearance
• Metabolic Syndrome, a group of conditions including increased blood pressure, high blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels that occur together and increase a person’s risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes
• Irregular periods (oligomenorrhea)
• Increased visceral abdominal fat, a type of body fat associated strongly with an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke

Mercy Health Physician Charles Glueck, MD is the senior author of two publications arising from this research. He used data came from over 20 years of follow-up of 745 girls enrolled at ages 9-10 and followed to age 28 by the team of Dr. John Morrison and Dr. Jessica Woo at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, with Dr. Stephen Daniels of Children’s Hospital Colorado.

“All too often, physicians must rely on complicated and expensive blood tests to diagnose risk for impaired fasting glucose, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome and morbid obesity. However, simply by knowing whether a girl’s period started early or if it’s irregular in adolescence, the physician can predict with significant certainty the likelihood of developing those health conditions in young adulthood,” said Dr. Glueck.

“Our research confirms that a simple history of the age of period onset and the nature and frequency of menses in adolescence, along with a waist measurement, are very powerful, and essentially free determinants of serious metabolic problems in young adulthood. With this knowledge, the physician can institute more intensive diet, exercise, and, in certain circumstances, insulin sensitizing drugs to prevent the development of serious metabolic disease in young adult women,” he adds.

Conventional wisdom has long held that irregular cycles in teens aged 14 to 19 are “normal,” especially in the first two years after the cycles start. However, the follow-up study by Dr. Glueck and his colleagues confirmed his previous findings that young women with irregular cycles of 42 days or more in length are at increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and PCOS later in life, as compared to their peers with regular cycles of 27 to 35 days. As they get older, young women with irregular cycles are also more likely to struggle with obesity and lipid disorders, which play a role in the development of coronary heart disease.

“Based on the research, we have confirmed that menstrual patterns track from adolescence to young adulthood and irregular periods in the teen years are predictive of the onset later in life of a number of health issues including type 2 diabetes, PCOS and metabolic syndrome,” said Dr. Glueck.

“Once cycles begin, all adolescent girls and their parents and caregivers should monitor the regularity of the girls’ menstrual cycles. If a young woman’s cycles are irregular and if the irregularity persists over a six-month period, then she should get evaluated by her physician for the possibility of the most common endocrine disorder in women, polycystic ovary syndrome, or for other causes of menstrual irregularity,” said Dr. Glueck.

“If the diagnosis is PCOS, then the physician and a dietitian, working together with the young woman and her family, are in a position to take preventative actions early on that may impact the girl’s future quality of life significantly and positively.  If there are other causes for the irregular periods, then they, too, can be dealt with early in adolescence.”

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, women with metabolic syndrome are twice as likely to develop heart disease and five times as likely to develop diabetes as someone who doesn't have metabolic syndrome. The more risk factors a woman has, the more likely she is to develop heart disease or diabetes or suffer a stroke.

Dr. Glueck also confirmed that young women who start their periods before age 10 and have a larger than average weight circumference are more likely to develop visceral adipose tissue, which is body fat associated strongly with an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke. The risk for developing these conditions goes up as the waist circumference increases from adolescence into adulthood.

“It is vitally important that girls and their parents or caregivers note the age at which a girl starts her cycle. If she starts before age 10 and has a larger than average waist measurement, the girl’s physician can work together with the young woman and her family to take preventative actions early around diet and exercise that may have a significant impact the girl’s long-term health.”

Dr. Charles J. Glueck and Ping Wang, PhD are with Mercy Health – Cholesterol and Metabolism Center, while coauthors John Morrison, PhD, Jessica Woo, PhD and Phil Khoury, MS are with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Stephen Daniels, MD, MPH is chief of pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Colorado. The medical journal Metabolism published the irregular period study on January 15, 2015. The Journal of Pediatrics published the waist size study on January 29, 2015.

Dr. Glueck leads and practices from Mercy Health – Cholesterol and Metabolism Center, located at 2135 Dana Ave., Suite 430 in Cincinnati, ZIP 45207. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Glueck, please call 513-924-8250.

To find a Mercy Health physician in your neighborhood, or to learn about the services provided at Mercy Health, please visit or call 513-981-2222.