Asthma Tied to Irregular Periods

Hormones, not medications, may be to blame, study suggests

THURSDAY, May 26, 2005 (HealthDayNews) -- While the exact causes of asthma remain elusive, a new study suggests the condition may be more common in women with irregular periods.

The finding adds to the evidence suggesting that female hormones play a role in the development of asthma and allergies, according to the report in the June issue of the journal Thorax.

"We noticed that women with asthma more often have irregular menstruation," said lead researcher Dr. Cecilie Svanes, a pulmonologist in the Department of Thoracic Medicine at Haukeland Hospital, in Bergen, Norway. However, the meaning of this observation is not clear, she added.

"The comforting thing about the finding is that we cannot see that this is due to asthma medications, because even women with untreated asthma had irregular menstruation," she noted. "This is one more piece of evidence that hormones may be related to asthma."

In their study, Svanes and her colleagues collected data on 8,588 women from five northern European countries. The researchers asked about the woman's respiratory health and menstruation patterns.

Svanes's group found that about one in four women had irregular periods. Broken down by age, they found that about one in seven women aged 25 to 42, and over a third of those 43 to 54, had irregular periods.

Among younger women, the heaviest, shortest or tallest were more likely to have irregular periods. Among the older women, smoking and the timing of menopause were associated with irregular menstruation.

The researchers found that younger women with irregular periods were 58 percent more likely to develop asthma compared to women with regular periods.

Svanes speculated that this phenomenon may be related to polycystic ovarian syndrome, which leads to irregular periods and insulin resistance. "Treatment of the insulin resistance will make some of these women fertile," she noted.

So, asthma may have common risk factors with polycystic ovarian syndrome, Svanes said. "There is a lot of discussion when it comes to heart disease, but there has been very little discussion of this when it comes to lung disease. This finding suggests that asthma could be associated with insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, like all of the other Western Society diseases [heart disease, diabetes and obesity]."

It is difficult to say how significant this finding is, Svanes noted. "It's a study that makes us want to do more studies. This is not a study that answers questions. It is a study that asks new questions," she said.

In another, as yet unpublished study, Svanes's team found that hormonal imbalance in women is related to poorer lung function. "It confirms what we find about asthma," she said. "Hormonal disturbance is related to asthma and lower lung function."

Given these findings, Svanes hopes that asthma may ultimately be treated by changes in diet that balance hormones.

One expert finds these results interesting but odd.

"This is very unusual," said Dr. Clifford Bassett, a clinical instructor at New York University School of Medicine and a spokesman for the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

"This is a preliminary evaluation of something that seems to be quite important," Bassett said. "This may be a trigger that helps explains why there is an asthma epidemic in the world."

Bassett doesn't know if the finding has any immediate application. "The study is interesting and intriguing, but I am not sure how the clinician can utilize the information in terms of a day-to-day practical approach."

He did say that women with asthma are more likely to have asthmatic attacks around the time of their period, which supports the theory of the role of hormones in asthma. "A lot of this has to do with progesterone and estrogen levels," he said.

More information

The National Library of Medicine can tell you more about asthma.

SOURCES: Cecilie Svanes, M.D., Ph.D., pulmonologist, Department of Thoracic Medicine, Haukeland Hospital, Bergen, Norway; Clifford Bassett, M.D., clinical assistant professor, medicine, State University of New York, clinical instructor, New York University School of Medicine, New York City, and spokesman, American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology; June 2005 Thorax
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