A recent study done by US-based Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and the tech giant Apple says that women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are likely to develop heart-related ailments. It also says that PCOS imposes a high risk of prediabetic conditions, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity.
The study, ‘Apple Women’s Health Study on periods, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and heart health’, was published in March 2022.
PCOS is a hormonal fluctuation commonly found in women during their active reproductive years. A long menstrual cycle and heavy blood flow are its main symptoms. The hormonal fluctuations indicate the excess of androgen over estrogen, which results in acne, excess facial and body hair or scalp hair loss.
Happiest Health talked to gynaecologists N Sapna Lulla and Sarika Gupta about the study’s findings.
“The Harvard and Apple study establishes the link between abnormal periods, PCOS and heart health. PCOS can cause high blood pressure, cholesterol, increase insulin levels and glucose intolerance in women. All of these can increase the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease,” says Dr Lulla, lead consultant of obstetrics & gynaecology at Aster CMI Hospital, Bengaluru.
Women with PCOS generally become overweight, insulin-resistant and get high blood pressure.
“All these conditions are likely to cause cardiovascular diseases among women,” says Dr Gupta, consultant, gynaecologic oncology and robotic gynaecology, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi.
In 2020, a survey conducted across India found that about 16 per cent of women respondents between the ages of 20 and 29 years suffered from PCOS due to increased incidents of unhealthy eating patterns and irregular exercise. This survey was published by the data platform Statista.
Family history and PCOS
The Harvard and Apple study conducted a ‘medical history’ survey on gynaecological issues, family medical history and heart health with more than 37,000 participants. Ove time, about 30,000 completed the reproductive history survey and answered questions about their menstrual cycle over time.
The study made use of cycle tracking data from participants’ iPhone and/or Apple Watch, along with their survey responses.
It found out that most women were diagnosed with PCOS between the ages of 14 and 35, with a median age of 22. Though the cause of PCOS has not been fully ascertained, the study said 23 per cent of the participants with the condition had a family history of it.
PCOS and heart health are closely linked to each other since there is a risk of increase in diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. The study showed that women with PCOS had a higher prevalence of the conditions that could have a negative impact on health.
It found that 23.3 per cent of the participants with PCOS are likely to have pre-diabetic conditions and 6.7 per cent are likely to have type-2 diabetes Increase in glucose or blood sugar level leads to diabetes, which may damage the blood vessels in heart.
Nineteen per cent of participants with PCOS were found to be more likely to have high cholesterol which can clog or block arteries, thus preventing the blood flow.
Also, 17.7 per cent of women with PCOS are more likely to have high blood pressure, which causes damage to the walls of arteries over time.
A total of 60.5 per cent of participants reported having obesity, defined by a body mass index of more than 30kg/m2, which impacts cholesterol level, blood pressure and diabetes.
The report also found that irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia was common among the participants with PCOS (5.6 per cent).
Lifestyle changes for women with PCOS
Dr Lulla insists that women should keep track of their menstrual cycle. “Change in lifestyle can improve your overall health,” she says.
The Harvard and Apple study cites exercising, eating a nutritious and balanced diet, getting enough sleep, staying hydrated and taking care of mental health as the best way to maintain menstrual heath. All these healthy lifestyles will help reduce the risk of heart-related conditions.