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Apr 23, 2016

Endometriosis Increases Risk for Heart Disease in Young Women

A condition affecting the female reproductive organs triples risk for heart disease in women under 40.

A common condition called endometriosis, which affects the reproductive organs, drastically increases heart disease risk in young women, according to research recently published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

Endometriosis is a painful, chronic disorder that causes misplaced tissue to grow outside of the uterus. Affecting an estimated 10% of reproductive-age women, this condition puts added stress on the body and may result in reduced fertility, among other complications. Studies have also linked endometriosis to chronic inflammation and high cholesterol, potentially increasing risk for heart disease.

To explore the association between endometriosis and heart health, researchers analyzed data from the Nurses’ Health Study II, which followed U.S. female nurses from 1989–2009. The study included more than 116,000 women between the ages of 25–42, collecting information on demographics, health and lifestyle. At the start of the study, women were asked about reproductive health, including history of endometriosis.

Based on responses to questionnaires, roughly 5% of participants had been diagnosed with endometriosis at the start of the study. After 20 years of follow-up, researchers found that women with endometriosis had significantly greater risk for heart disease than those without this condition.

Overall, women with endometriosis were 62% more likely to have a heart attack, develop chest pain or need heart procedures to open blocked arteries. However, women 40 or younger with endometriosis had more than three times greater risk for these complications than women without endometriosis. Women who had their uterus or ovaries removed had 51% greater risk of heart complications compared to those who didn’t.

According to experts, this is the first study to find a direct association between endometriosis and heart disease. While past studies have linked endometriosis to inflammation and increased cholesterol levels, this is the first to show that endometriosis may actually increase risk for heart disease, particularly in young women.

As such, findings highlight the importance of addressing risk factors for heart disease—the No. 1 killer of women in the United States. Most adults already have one or more risk factors for heart disease, like high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, even at a younger age. Since endometriosis may further increase cardiovascular risk in women, addressing risk factors is even more important for preventing heart disease and life-threatening heart events.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How can I reduce my risk for heart disease?
  • Healthy lifestyle choices are key to reducing risk for heart disease. By eating a heart-healthy diet and staying physically active, you can help significantly reduce heart disease risk. Knowing your numbers—body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar—and family history is also important so that you can address any risk factors you may have for heart disease.
  • How is inflammation linked to heart health?
  • Inflammation is the body’s response to injury or infection. Although it’s not proven that inflammation actually causes heart disease, research shows that many heart disease patients have heightened markers of inflammation. It’s possible that inflammation may be a sign of heart disease or a response to it, and further research is needed to better understand the role of inflammation on cardiovascular risk.

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