Women with abnormal periods, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) may be at risk of heart problems, according to a new study led by an Indian-American researcher at Harvard University in collaboration with tech giant Apple.
PCOS is characterised by long menstrual cycles, heavy periods as well as high hormonal imbalances that cause acne, excess facial or body hair, or scalp hair loss.
While often PCOS is known to just impact periods and menstruation, it is also closely linked to heart and circulatory health.A
The study showed that PCOS may increase the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity — all conditions that can negatively affect heart health.
“Despite the association between PCOS and heart-related conditions, historically, research studies about heart health have not included information about menstrual cycles. More broadly speaking, menstrual health is also significantly under-represented in the research space,” said Shruthi Mahalingaiah, Assistant professor of environmental, reproductive, and womena’s health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“Our study is filling a research gap by diving deeper into understanding how periods and menstrual cycles can be a window into overall health,” she added.
The study was based on a survey of more than 37,000 participants who answered questions about gynecological conditions, family medical history, and heart health. Of these, approximately 30,000 also answered questions about their menstrual cycle over time on the Apple Health app.
The results showed that in comparison to participants without PCOS, participants with PCOS were almost four times more likely to have pre-diabetic conditions and three times more likely to have Type 2 diabetes.
In people with diabetes, chronic elevations in glucose may damage blood vessels in the heart.
The prevalence of high blood pressure and high cholesterol were 1.7 times higher for participants with PCOS than participants without PCOS.
A majority, 61 per cent, of participants with PCOS reported obesity, known to impact cholesterol levels, affect blood pressure, and increase risk of conditions like diabetes.
Irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, was also more common among participants with PCOS (5.6 per cent) than participants without PCOS (3.7 per cent).
The study recommended lifestyle changes are to promote menstrual regularity and improve heart health, including changing exercise routine, eating more nutritious food, getting better sleep, staying hydrated, and taking care of your mental health.
Cycle Tracking app on iPhone and Apple Watch accurately tracks periods and symptoms that may help your doctor make important diagnoses, which is critical in risk assessment, prevention of some unwanted effects of the disease, and implementation of changes in your routine for better health.
Cycle Tracking is available on every iPhone globally in the Health app, and on Apple Watch. Like all health data, Cycle Tracking data is encrypted and only accessible with the user’s passcode, Touch ID, or Face ID.