FRIDAY, Aug. 3, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Girls who are sexually or physically abused may start menstruating earlier or later than average, according to a new study.
After analyzing information on nearly 69,000 women, researchers from Boston University School of Medicine found those sexually abused during their childhood were 49 percent more likely to have their first period before age 11 than women who were not abused. Women who suffered severe physical abuse had a 50 percent increased risk for starting their menstrual cycles late, or after age 15.
In the United States, girls' periods start on average at about 12.5 years old, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The research does not suggest, however, that a girl who starts menstruating earlier or later than usual has been abused.
"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," the study's leader, Dr. Renee Boynton-Jarrett, assistant professor of pediatrics, said in a university news release.
"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," Boynton-Jarrett added.
The researchers noted that girls who menstruate early may be at greater risk for certain health problems, such as heart disease, metabolic dysfunction, cancer and depression. Meanwhile, girls who menstruate late may be more likely to have depression and lower bone-mineral density.
"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," Boynton-Jarrett said.
The study was published online July 26 in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on risk and protective factors for child abuse.