Three Unexpected Ways Your Reproductive Health Affects Your Heart

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Three Unexpected Ways Your Reproductive Health Affects Your Heart

This Valentine’s Day, we explore how paying attention to your reproductive health could make a big difference in cardiac health

By Margaret Farrell, Director of Corporate Communications, Celmatix


 

It’s Valentine’s Day, which not-so-coincidentally falls in the middle of American Heart Month. Heart health is critical. It’s the leading cause of death among women in the U.S. — more than all cancers combined — and although many of us already know the basics of how to stay well, what many may not know is that reproductive health and cardiac health are intrinsically linked. In fact, in some ways, reproductive health can be considered a window into a woman’s overall health.

In this post, we’ll explore some of the unexpected ways various reproductive health conditions can affect your heart health.

While some of the facts we uncover sound a bit doom-and-gloom, please know that there are many things you can do to boost your cardiac health that will have a positive benefit to your reproductive health as well.

Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a condition wherein the tissue that usually lines the uterus grows outside of the uterus, often causing painful periods, pain during sex, excessive bleeding, and infertility, among other symptoms. It can be difficult to diagnose (many women wait 10 years or more for a diagnosis) and treatment options are limited, with laparoscopic surgeries or hormonal interventions being among the most common options.

Much about endometriosis is yet to be fully understood, such as its cause, but its effect on women’s lives can be devastating, including its impact on a woman’s heart. A study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that women with endometriosis have a 52% greater risk of experiencing a heart attack than women without the disease. Additionally, women with endometriosis are at a 92% greater risk of developing angina, or chest pain, and at a 35% greater risk of needing surgery or stenting to open blocked arteries.

PCOS

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that can cause a wide range of symptoms, including excessive androgen (male hormone) production, irregular periods, and cysts on the ovaries. Like endometriosis, PCOS is a leading cause of infertility, and its cause is not well understood.

Because PCOS affects insulin resistance, women with PCOS are at a significantly heightened risk for type II diabetes; according to the CDC, more than half of women with PCOS will develop it by age 40. Additionally, PCOS is associated with weight gain and obesity, which increases the risk of heart disease. However, non-obese women with PCOS may be at increased risk as well. Other traits that are commonly associated with the condition, such as excess androgen levels in the blood, and even sleep apnea and the subsequent ‘excessive daytime sleepiness’ it causes, may also contribute to the cardiovascular risk profile of the condition.

According to Erin Michos, M.D., associate director of preventive cardiology at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, “Studies suggest that women with PCOS have a twice as likely risk of a future cardiovascular event, like a heart attack or stroke.”

Premature or Early Menopause

Menopause is a normal occurrence that all women, as they age, will experience. It marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years and the cessation of her period. Most women experience menopause in their early 50s, but about 1% of women will experience menopause before the age of 40 due to a condition called premature ovarian insufficiency, or POI (also sometimes referred to as premature ovarian failure, or POF). In total, about 5% of women will experience menopause before age 45. Sometimes, premature and early menopause occur as a result of fertility-affecting medical treatment such as chemotherapy. For many women, however, the cause is never understood, although genetics and other factors are known to play a role.

No matter her age at the time of menopausal transition, a woman’s heart disease risk increases after menopause. For women who experience premature or early menopause, however, that risk is significantly increased. A recent study from Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, found that heart disease risk appeared to be 50 percent greater for the women who were under 45 when menopause began, and that early age of menopause also appeared to increase women’s risk of cardiovascular death and death from all causes. It’s worth noting, though, that these same researchers found that women whose menopause occurred between ages 50–54 had a lower risk of heart disease than those who went into menopause before 50.

What You Can Do

If you have been diagnosed with or suspect you may have any of the conditions listed above, it’s important that you take the following steps to manage your symptoms and create a plan with your doctor to ensure that your heart stays healthy.

  • Focus on diet and exercise. New year’s resolution fizzled out already? No problem. It’s never too late to start prioritizing your health by finding ways to incorporate regular exercise into your daily routine and make small-but-impactful changes to your diet that will pay off over time. For a few great suggestions, check out the American Heart Association’s healthy living tips.

  • Talk to your doctor. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms described above, such as irregular periods, absent periods, or pain during your period, talk to your doctor about them during your next annual visit. They will be able to help you with the next steps of uncovering the cause of your symptoms and help you learn how best to manage them.

  • Gather your family reproductive health history. Each of the conditions listed above is associated with genetic risk, which means your female relatives could be a great source of information about your own reproductive health. The conversation can be awkward, but it’s worth it — here are a few tips on how to break the ice.

This Valentine’s Day, taking a few minutes between rom-coms or dinner dates to consider your reproductive health could make a significant impact on your heart.

 

 

To keep up with the latest research on reproductive health and its impact on women’s lives from the Celmatix team, visit www.celmatix.com/research.