PCOS Leads to Hardening of the Arteries

More Bad News

More bad news for women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)—they're at risk for early hardening of their coronary arteries, often the first sign of cardiovascular disease. That's according to Evelyn O. Talbott, Dr.P.H., professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. But there are ways to reduce the risk of developing heart disease. Taking control of your weight and your insulin sensitivity may just do the trick.

PCOS is a reproductive endocrine disorder which affects 5% of the female population, and manifests in menstrual irregularities, anovulation, excess hair growth, and infertility. PCOS sufferers are also subject to several metabolic issues such as abnormal blood lipid levels and increased midline obesity or apple-shaped body.

Until now, PCOS wasn't seen by the medical profession as a single disorder with many dimensions. Instead, women were treated for individual symptoms, in particular for irregular menstrual cycles and infertility. However, Talbot's study suggests an association between the metabolic abnormalities experienced by those women with PCOS and premature atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries.

The metabolic abnormalities associated with PCOS are called metabolic Syndrome X or metabolic cardiovascular syndrome. The presence of calcium deposits in the coronary arteries indicates the first stages of cardiovascular disease which may escape clinical detection.

In the Pittsburgh study, researchers used electron beam computed tomography (EBCT) to scan the coronary arteries of 84 women—41 with PCOS and 43 women as the control group. The women had a mean age of 47 years. It was seen that the women with PCOS had a significant increase in the prevalence of coronary artery calcification with 65.9% of the PCOS group showing coronary calcium deposits as compared with 34.9% of the control group.

An association was seen between this excess calcification in the PCOS group with increasing insulin concentration, low HDL cholesterol levels (good cholesterol), and an increasing waist circumference. These coexisting conditions lead Dr. Talbott to believe that women with PCOS may be able to reduce their coronary artery disease risk by addressing the individual aspects of their metabolic cardiovascular syndrome.

Lose the Paunch

As Dr. Talbott states, "These results highlight the need to reduce central obesity and improve insulin sensitivity in young women with PCOS. Dietary intervention and exercise in the teens and 20s, coupled with the use of insulin-sensitizing agents in select individuals, may help to prevent adverse cardiovascular outcomes, such as angina and heart attack, in later life."

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