Your menstrual cycle can predict your risk of heart disease. Here’s how

Updated on: 6 May 2021, 06:27 am IST

Ruled by oestrogen, our menstrual cycle—irregular or otherwise—can have a major impact on our ticker, predicting the state of your heart health.

causes of period blood smell
Your missing periods can spell doom for your heart. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Women tend to get affected by heart disease on a larger scale than men. This is mainly because of our physiological functioning. It has always been assumed that symptoms and risk factors of heart disease are the same in both sexes—and as a result, women are typically underrepresented in heart research. But for women between the ages of 35 and 45, heart disease has been on the rise.

What tends to happen is that women who have a regular menstrual cycle have a lower risk of heart disease than men of the same age or women who no longer have menstrual cycles. Multiple missed menses again is another warning sign.

We all know that oestrogen in women is a protective hormone against heart disease. Most commonly, when women miss multiple periods (and are not pregnant) the hormone that has shut down is oestrogenic in nature. This may be caused by hormonal disturbances, stress, weight gain or under eating, unhealthy lifestyle practices or a combination of all.

Women with this type of amenorrhea have oestrogenic levels like women that are post-menopausal. Bone health is also significantly affected in these women, like that as seen in a menopausal woman.

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Women with irregular periods might be at a higher risk of heart disease
It has been found that in some research papers that women who missed menstrual cycles due to low oestrogen, their small blood vessel function is low, which is an early sign of heart disease. This is still under research but if proven, may have a long-term impact on how menstrual imbalances can also negatively impact cardiac health in younger women.

When a woman has heart disease, she tends to have greater chest pains during certain phases of the cycles. According to a study published in the medical journal, Heart, during times of the month when less oestrogen is circulating in their bloodstreams in the week during or immediately after menses—these women tend to have worse chest pain, or angina, and to perform more poorly on treadmill tests designed to look for low blood flow to the heart.

Pregnancy can also impact your heart
When we talk about pregnancy itself, it is a big physiological strain on the mother’s body. It was initially thought that what happens during pregnancy, stays during pregnancy—meaning high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, or conditions such as preeclampsia all resolve after the baby is born.

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When a woman is pregnant it is an opportunity to see how her body responds to higher heart rates and blood flow—it is a physiological stress test. If these conditions occur during pregnancy, it is a sign that the physiologic stress test was abnormal. We know now that pregnancy induced hypertension and gestational diabetes can predispose the woman later in life to hypertension, diabetes and also increases her susceptibility to heart ailments.

This goes to show that the menstrual cycle function and cardiac health in women are closely connected.

Dr Uma Vaidyanathan Dr Uma Vaidyanathan

Dr Uma is a senior consultant at obstetrics and gynaecology department, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh.

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