Young Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Have Higher Risk of Heart Disease

Symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome, such as obesity and diabetes, can lead to a 19% higher risk of heart disease.

According to a new study, women in their 30s and 40s with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are more likely to have an array of symptoms, including obesity and diabetes, all of which can contribute to a heightened risk of heart disease.

PCOS is a common condition affecting an estimated 6%-20% of women of reproductive age, according to a press release from the European Society of Cardiology. The condition is characterized by multiple cysts on the ovaries, irregular menstrual cycles, excess body hair or hair loss from the head due to high levels of male hormones, and difficulty becoming pregnant.

Although there are strategies for women with PCOS to maintain their health and mitigate symptoms, women with the condition are more likely to be overweight or obese, have diabetes, and have high blood pressure. All of these symptoms are risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

In the study, investigators included 60,574 women receiving treatments to get pregnant between 1994 and 2015, of whom 10.2% had PCOS. The researchers used medical records to follow those women for 9 years, during which time 4.8% developed cardiovascular disease.

Based on these findings, the investigators found that women with PCOS had a 19% higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease than women without PCOS. However, they added that when the women were divided into age groups, women aged 50 years and older did not have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Interestingly, women in their 30s and 40s with PCOS were at a greater risk of cardiovascular disease compared with those without PCOS. The evidence for women under 30 years of age was less clear, however, likely because there were insufficient women of that age in the dataset to identify the risk, according to the study authors.

“Heart health appears to be a particular problem for young women with PCOS,” said study author Clare Oliver-Williams, PhD, in a statement. “This may be because they are more likely to be overweight and have high blood pressure and diabetes compared to their peers. Previous studies have suggested that these differences diminish with age. In other words, as women without PCOS get older, they increasingly become overweight and develop high blood pressure and diabetes. In a negative sense, they catch up to their peers with PCOS.”

Oliver-Williams added that simple lifestyle changes can make a difference, however, and said women with PCOS should remain positive. Maintaining a healthy diet with fruits and vegetables as well as an exercise regimen is important and can help manage the effects of PCOS. Taking care of mental health is also important, she said.

“PCOS can be a distressing condition, not just because it can affect fertility,” Oliver-Williams said. “The physical effects can cause anxiety and depression. There’s so much pressure on young women to achieve what we’re told is the physical idea. It takes age and time to embrace yourself and getting support from others is a vital step, so reach out if you need it.”

REFERENCE

Young women with polycystic ovary syndrome have raised risk of heart disease [news release]. European Society of Cardiology; August 3, 2020. https://www.escardio.org/The-ESC/Press-Office/Press-releases/Young-women-with-polycystic-ovary-syndrome-have-raised-risk-of-heart-disease. Accessed August 10, 2020.