The World Health Organization estimates that 3.4% women (that’s about 116 million women) worldwide suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Recent surveys reveal that the prevalence of PCOS in India is as high as 20-25% among Indian women of reproductive age. But while it’s usually linked to reproductive capacity and infertility, suffering from PCOS has greater implications.
A recent study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology shows that young women with PCOS are at an increased risk of developing heart disease.
Why women in their 30s and 40s are at risk
The study was conducted on 60,574 Scandinavian women with PCOS who were also receiving various kinds of treatments. These women were identified and their health status was tracked between 1995 and 2015 (a period of 20 years). Those who had cardiovascular issues at the beginning of the study were excluded.
The study found that younger women with PCOS, especially those who are in their 30s and 40s, had a 19% higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. This was also because these women were likely to gain weight, have higher blood pressure levels and get diabetes (either diabetes mellitus or gestational diabetes) due to PCOS. Weight gain, hypertension and diabetes are risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
How age works as a leveller for heart disease in women
However, the study also found that with age - specifically as women with PCOS crossed the age of 50 years - the risk of cardiovascular disease was no higher than in those women who’ve never had any endocrinological disorders like PCOS. This is because women who don’t have PCOS also tend to gain weight and develop hypertension or diabetes by the time they get to 50.
So, whether you have PCOS or not, if you’re a woman above 50 years of age with the more common risk factors of heart disease, the chances are that you might develop cardiovascular issues. While younger women with PCOS are at a greater risk of developing heart disease, their risk after 50 appears to be the same as every other woman.
This first-of-its-kind study observed the effects of PCOS on the lives of women across a greater part of their lifespan, from 30 years to beyond 50 years, and its findings have immense value for women who are suffering from this endocrinological disorder. Knowing that they have an increased risk of developing heart diseases, women with PCOS should work on controlling the other risk factors. This not only means following a healthy diet and getting enough exercise to keep obesity, hypertension and diabetes at bay, but also joining support groups (or creating some) to keep each other motivated and healthy.
For more information, read our article on PCOS and heart health.
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