Women under the age of 40 who have the chronic condition endometriosis may be at a higher risk than the general population for developing heart disease. That was one of the findings of a new study that was published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes in March.
The study followed almost 120,000 women over the course of 20 years. At the end of the 20 years, almost 10% of those women had been diagnosed with endometriosis. After adjusting for confounding factors such as diabetes and physical activity levels, researchers found that the women with endometriosis were 52% more likely to have had a heart attack, 91% more likely to have had severe chest pain, and 35% more likely to have needed surgery for blocked arteries.
Endometriosis, which affects at least 6.3 million women and girls in the US, occurs when tissue that normally lines the uterus is found outside the uterus (on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or ligaments that support the uterus, for example). This tissue sheds every month during menstruation, but unlike tissue inside the uterus, it has no way to leave the body. This can lead to internal bleeding, the breakdown of blood and tissue, and inflammation. Symptoms of this condition can include pain before and during periods, pain during sex, and fertility problems.
More research is needed to determine why endometriosis might increase the risk for heart disease. It’s possible there could be several factors at play: Dr. Stacey Missmer, one of the study’s co-authors, notes that women with endometriosis often have systemic inflammation, an imbalance between harmful free radicals and antioxidant defenses, and high “bad” cholesterol. However, it’s not yet clear how all these factors are linked to heart disease.
Endometriosis has long been stigmatized as a ‘woman’s problem’ that is hierarchically less important than other diseases, and in some cases the symptoms have even been written off as bad menstrual cramps. The newly discovered association between endometriosis and heart disease risk sheds light on the importance of learning more about this chronic condition, how to treat it, and how to reduce the risks of health complications.