What Serious PMS Means For Your Heart Health

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
If you thought those few days a month spent clutching the heating pad were bad, just wait: According to a new study, women with severe PMS symptoms are also at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure and, eventually, heart disease.

For the study, published in the current issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers used data from 1,257 women with moderate to severe PMS — and about 2,500 women who had relatively mild periods. This information was originally collected by mail for a larger study, which began in 1989 and had follow-ups every two years afterwards. Participants also reported their blood pressure and whether or not they had been diagnosed with hypertension between 1991 and 2005.

The researchers found that women who had more severe PMS symptoms (e.g. cramps, insomnia, dizziness, hot flashes) were 40% more likely to develop hypertension than those with mild symptoms. And the association was even stronger for those participants between 27 and 40 years old: In this age group (versus those in the study who were older than 40), women with PMS had three times the risk that women without PMS had for developing hypertension in the next 20 years. However, the youngest participants were 27, so it's unclear how these results would apply to anyone younger than that.

But the authors aren't arguing that PMS causes high blood pressure. Instead, they believe the two conditions may stem from the same underlying cause, such as differences in women's vascular systems. The link may also be due to the fact that certain medications — such as birth control pills and antidepressants — that some women with PMS take are also known to raise blood pressure.

It's good to remember, though, that risk for high blood pressure for women in this age group is pretty low to begin with (women between 20 and 34 have about a 7% risk, and those between 35 and 44 have a 19% risk) and may be affected by other lifestyle factors, too, including BMI and whether or not you smoke. But your risk does rise as you age, and at 65, the rate for women is higher than that for men: 69.3% versus 64%, per the CDC.

Luckily, our go-to strategies for preventing and treating PMS — eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and taking time to de-stress — can also help lower blood pressure. So now you've got another excuse to treat yourself right.
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