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Am J Epidemiol. 1979 Feb;109(2):181-5.

Variations in the reporting of menstrual histories.


This investigation examined the accuracy of recall of females to questions concerning ages at memarche, natural and surgical menopause, first use of oral contraceptives and mean menstrual cycle length and variance. A sample of 160 women who had recorded their menstrual and reproductive events as they occurred were administered a questionnaire concerning these events, with responses compared to the original data. For the variables age at menarche, age at natural memopause, age at surgical menopause and age at first use of oral contraceptives, the percentage of women who correctly recalled within a year ranged from 75% to 90%. Recollection of menstrual cycle length and variability by interview was considered unreliable. These findings are encouraging regarding the ability to recall the age when certain menstrual and reproductive events occur, but not for menstrual cycle intervals or patterns. Because these women were well-educated and had once recorded study variables, these results might be considered optimal.


A study was conducted to examine the accuracy of recall of females to questions regarding age at menarche, natural and surgical menopause, 1st use of oral contraceptives (OC), and mean menstrual cycle length and variance. Prospectively collected data were obtained from a final sample of 160 women aged 25 to 64 years living in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area and who had participated in the Menstrual and Reproductive History study (MRH; period covered, 1934 to 1974) for at least 5 years. The MRH study was began in 1934 by Dr. Al Treloar by enrolling coeds at the University of Minnesota who agreed to record the dates on onset and cessation of menstrual flow, pregnancies, lactation, contraceptive use and related events. 40 women were randomly selected in the 25 to 34 and 35 to 44 age groups, and 80 in the 45 to 64 age group. A structured questionnaire was administered to each woman and the responses compared with the MRH data. Results of analysis show that 75 to 90% of women correctly recalled age at menarche, age at natural menopause, age at surgical menopause, and age of 1st use of OC. However, recall of menstrual cycle length and variability appears to be generally unreliable; recall of cycle length is best for women aged 20 to 39 when menstrual cycles are least variable. The data from this study were collected from well-educated women who were able to record their reproductive events. The results may thus be considered optimal.

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