Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or dysmenorrhea (painful periods) are at an elevated cardiovascular risk, according to two separate studies.

The studies that evaluated the link between the two common reproductive health conditions and cardiovascular disease will be presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2023 this month.

PCOS is a hormone disorder that affects one in 10 women of childbearing age. It occurs when ovaries produce an excessive amount of androgens, male sex hormones that typically occur in small quantities in females. Dysmenorrhea is a menstrual cycle problem that causes severe and frequent cramps and pain during menstruation.

The first study evaluated the link between PCOS and heart disease risk. It looked at the data of around 170,000 girls in the U.S. between 13 to 17 years. The team found that girls with PCOS were at 30% higher risk of high blood pressure compared to those without the condition. The prevalence of high blood pressure was 18.6% among those with PCOS, while it was 6.9% among those without the syndrome.

"While data are emerging on the cardiovascular effects of polycystic ovary syndrome throughout the lifespan, few studies have examined associated health risks specifically among adolescents," said lead study author Sherry Zhang, from Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center in Oakland. "Studying adolescents will allow us to better identify possible cardiometabolic complications of polycystic ovary syndrome that may develop at a young age in hopes of reducing future cardiovascular risk."

"These findings emphasize the importance of routine blood pressure monitoring and lifestyle modification in at-risk adolescents, including those with polycystic ovary syndrome, to prevent the development of hypertension," Zhang said.

The study has certain limitations as it evaluated blood pressure based on a single measurement and did not assess the risk of persistent high blood pressure.

For estimating the link between dysmenorrhea and heart disease, 5,000 women under the age of 50 were evaluated. Of them, about 30,000 were diagnosed with dysmenorrhea. Women with dysmenorrhea were twice as likely to develop ischemic heart disease (caused by narrowing of arteries) and were three times more at risk of developing chest pain or angina, the study revealed.

"Studying dysmenorrhea is important given that dysmenorrhea stands as the most prevalent menstrual concern. It is associated with heightened stress and disruption of the autonomic nervous system, which influences heart and vessel function and is associated with the increase in certain molecules related to inflammation. Both inflammation and stress are also associated with increased cardiovascular risk, with stress particularly noted for its relevance in heart disease among young women," said Eugenia Alleva, the lead author of the second study.

The study has evaluated data for only one point in time, and hence cannot determine if there is any chronological link between dysmenorrhea and heart disease.