Reproductive Health Conditions Linked to Increased Heart Disease Risk in Women


Preliminary research set to be unveiled at the upcoming American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2023 indicates that two reproductive health conditions, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and dysmenorrhea, are each associated with a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease in women.

Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in women, with nearly 45 percent of women aged 20 and older affected, according to the American Heart Association’s Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics-2023 Update. These new studies shed light on the role that reproductive health plays in cardiovascular risk, a factor that has been largely overlooked within cardiovascular research, which has historically focused on an older, predominantly male population.

The first study, involving nearly 170,000 girls from the United States aged 13 to 17, found a 30 percent increased risk of high blood pressure among those with PCOS compared to their counterparts without the condition. The prevalence of high blood pressure was markedly higher in the PCOS group, standing at 18.6 percent versus 6.9 percent. These findings, researchers said, underscore the necessity for routine blood pressure monitoring and lifestyle modifications for adolescents, particularly those with PCOS, to prevent the development of hypertension.

The second study focused on the relationship between heart disease and dysmenorrhea, the most common menstrual cycle problem experienced by women, according to the study. In an analysis of more than 55,000 women under 50, those with dysmenorrhea were found to be twice as likely to have an increased risk for ischemic heart disease, including angina, heart attack, and chronic ischemic heart disease. Eugenia Alleva, MD, an author of the study, highlighted the importance of studying dysmenorrhea due to its prevalence and the associated stress and disruption it causes to the autonomic nervous system, which plays a role in cardiovascular function.

Researchers said their findings suggest that reproductive health conditions like PCOS and dysmenorrhea are significant risk factors for heart disease in young females and could be utilized in refining cardiovascular risk assessments in this population.

According to Harmony Reynolds, MD, Chair of the American Heart Association’s Committee on Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke in Women and Underrepresented Populations, identifying unique risks early can lead to timely interventions, potentially saving lives. She explained that studies provide crucial insights into how reproductive health factors impact cardiovascular risk in young women, paving the way for tailored preventive strategies and better heart health outcomes for women worldwide.

“A particular point to be made here is highlighting the important role a woman’s gynecologist can play in her overall health, including heart health,” said Reynolds. “Because many women may use annual “well-woman” visits to their gynecologist as their primary point of care, these visits offer an exceptional opportunity to talk about risks unique to women, along with the importance of maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle, which is a cornerstone of reducing cardiovascular disease risk.”