Women with polycystic ovary syndrome at risk of heart disease

risk of heart disease
© Ivan Shidlovski |

A new study has found that young women in their 30s and 40s with polycystic ovary syndrome have a raised risk of heart disease

It is estimated that 6-20% of women of reproductive age have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).2 PCOS can cause multiple cysts on the ovaries, irregular periods, excess body hair or hair loss due to high levels of male hormones, and difficulty becoming pregnant. Sufferers are more likely to be overweight or obese, have diabetes, and have high blood pressure, which can result in heart disease and stroke.

A new study has found that women with PCOS were at 19% higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

The study, which included 60,574 Scandinavian women receiving treatment to help them get pregnant from 1994 to 2015, found that 6,149 (10.2%) had PCOS. The researcher used medical records to follow the women for 9 years and found that 2,925 (4.8%) developed cardiovascular disease.

Study author Dr Clare Oliver-Williams of the University of Cambridge, UK, explained: “Some PCOS symptoms are only present during the reproductive years, so it’s possible that the raised chance of heart disease might disappear later in life.

“Polycystic ovary syndrome isn’t a life sentence – there are many ways to stay heart healthy. Small changes add up, like eating more fruits and vegetables and doing more exercise.

“Heart health appears to be a particular problem for young women with PCOS. 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.

“PCOS can be a distressing condition. Not just because it can affect fertility. 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 ideal. It takes age and time to embrace yourself and getting support from others is a vital step, so reach out if you need it.

“Knowledge is power and being aware of the heart risks means women with PCOS can do something about it. Women with PCOS have been dealt a tough hand but this is about how these women play their cards. There are fantastic PCOS support groups where they can find out what has helped others with PCOS lose weight, get more exercise, and have a healthier diet.”

The study was published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, a journal of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).1

The study was conducted in collaboration with researchers at the University of Copenhagen and Copenhagen University Hospital.

This work was funded by the British Heart Foundation (RE/13/6/30180), a doctoral research grant to DV from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen (Copenhagen, Denmark), a research fellowship to COW from Homerton College, University of Cambridge, a travel fellowship to COW from the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology and ReproUnion, and this article is part of the ReproUnion collaborative study, co-financed by the European Union, Intereg V Oresund-Kattegat-Skagerrak.

1.Oliver-Williams C, Vassard D, Pinborg A, Schmidt L. Risk of cardiovascular disease for women with polycystic ovary syndrome: results from a national Danish registry cohort study. Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2020. doi:10.1177/2047487320939674.
2.Jayasena CN, Franks S. The Management of Patients With Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2014;10:624-636.

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