Menstruation isn't a walk in the park itself but irregularities in the menstrual cycle can pose a much more challenging situation for many women. Research studies have shown that women who typically experienced irregular periods in the past were 28 percent more likely to develop heart disease than women who reported regular monthly periods. World Heart Day is observed on 29 September every year and in the lead up to it, let's take a deeper look at this association between irregular menstruation cycles and heart health.
Lack of awareness about PCOS in India
Women who suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which occurs due to high levels of male hormones, often complain of irregular periods and are more likely to be overweight or obese, diabetic and hypertensive -- all of which are risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Some other common features of PCOS include painful periods, excess body hair, hair loss from the head, acne and difficulty in becoming pregnant.
In India, women continue to suffer silently. Women with irregular periods often don't realise it to be a symptom and believe it to be normal, while the truth is that irregular and unpredictable periods are one of the major symptoms that help diagnose PCOS. Even the acne or excess facial hair do not throw up a red flag for most. This indicates a deep-rooted lack of awareness and stigma attached to sexual and reproductive health in the country. Women who have PCOS could experience periods twice a month, infrequently or even not at all for months at a time. Bleeding may be light or heavy enough to cause anaemia -- a condition which affects many Indian women and can be harmful to their heart health.
While as many as 80 percent of women with PCOS are obese, obesity does not cause PCOS and PCOS does not necessarily lead to obesity. PCOS is associated with a dysfunctional metabolism, which makes it easier to gain weight and more difficult to lose weight. It has been observed that women with PCOS commonly have insulin resistance, which leads to high insulin levels and increased risk of diabetes and, in turn, heart disease. The chances of having high blood pressure, liver disease and sleep apnea may also increase.
Heart health and PCOS
A possible reason for the increased risk of heart disease in women who have PCOS may be that they are more likely to be overweight and have high blood pressure or diabetes compared to their peers.
Associated weight gain, acne, excess facial hair and infertility could affect your self-esteem, leading to stress, which is a major contributor to developing heart disease early in life.
While there is no cure for PCOS, it can be managed with certain lifestyle modifications. Experts say that women need to be active in taking care of their own health. Loss of excess weight can reduce the severity of some PCOS symptoms. A 5-10% weight loss can have significant health benefits, including more regular menstrual cycles, improved mood and a reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Tracking periods to note changes in your menstrual cycle can help track any indication of health problems. If you have a family history of a health condition, you should be more cautious. Adopting a healthy lifestyle, maintaining a healthy weight by exercising regularly and eating a well-balanced diet can go a long way in managing PCOS and its associated health risks. Women with PCOS are also at higher risk of developing depression and anxiety disorders, eating disorders and sexual dysfunction.
This article was written by Dr Aparna Jaswal, Additional Director, Cardiac Pacing & Electrophysiology, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, New Delhi.
For more information, read our article on Heart Disease.
Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India's first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.