9 women’s health conditions linked to heart disease that may surprise you

Heart Health

by Noah Balarbar, BS   and Anandita Kulkarni, MD

Feb 6, 2023

Heart disease is often underdiagnosed in women, and its risk factors are often overlooked. That’s why it’s so important to take charge of your own health and your own risk factors.

So, what are your risk factors, you ask? You’re probably well aware of the traditional risk factors for heart disease, such as hypertension, diabetes, smoking and high cholesterol.

But did you know there are other conditions among women that can put you at greater risk for heart disease? These include pregnancy complications like pre-eclampsia and preterm delivery, as well as other common conditions among women, like endometriosis and PCOS.

Risk factors such as these have historically been overlooked, but they provide key opportunities to prevent heart disease in women. Being aware of these risk factors means you can start working to prevent heart disease earlier. Here’s what you need to know.

Keep in mind, these are just a few of the risk factors. Many other conditions and variables can also influence your risk for heart problems, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about your individual health factors.

Pregnancy-related risk factors for heart disease

Pregnancy—as wonderful as it is in so many ways—can be thought of as a stress test on the mother’s body. Complications in pregnancy can reveal risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes in mothers that previously were unknown.

Let’s discuss these common pregnancy complications and their link to heart health.

1. Gestational diabetes

This is a pregnancy-specific type of diabetes caused by the inability of the mother’s body to produce enough insulin for her and the developing baby. Women with gestational diabetes are twice as likely to have a cardiac event later in life.

2. Preterm delivery

Preterm delivery means delivery prior to 37 weeks of the mother’s pregnancy. In the decade following delivery, these mothers are more at risk for developing high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

3. Pre-eclampsia and gestational hypertension

These conditions are diagnosed when high blood pressure (>140/90) and protein in the mother’s urine start after the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. These mothers are twice as likely to develop coronary artery disease.

4. Small for Gestational Age (SGA)

SGA refers to infants who are born below the 10th percentile in weight in relation to the infant’s number of weeks in pregnancy. Mothers who deliver SGA infants should be followed closely for developing high blood pressure.

Non-pregnancy related risk factors for heart disease

Even if you are not an expecting mother, it’s important to be aware of the risk factors that can exist outside of pregnancy complications.

5. Premature ovarian failure

This is the loss of ovarian function in women who’ve entered menopause prior to the age of 40-45. This loss of function leads to hormone imbalances, increasing the likelihood of high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

6. Hormone-based contraceptives

Some contraceptives, such as estrogen or norgestrel or levonorgestrel-based contraceptives, are known to affect the levels of cholesterol in women. It’s important for you to be knowledgeable about the kinds of contraceptives you are taking.

7. Inflammatory conditions

Inflammatory conditions include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and lupus. While not entirely specific to women, they are, however, more common in women and have strong connections with increased cardiovascular disease risk.

8. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS is a hormonal condition causing small cysts in the ovaries. This is linked to other risk factors of heart disease such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

9. Endometriosis

In endometriosis, the tissue that lines the inner portion of the uterus grows outside the uterus. This causes increased inflammation, which in turn increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Lowering your risk for heart disease

Heart disease is a serious and often silent killer affecting both men and women. However, historically there has been a lack of awareness of these unique risk factors which can make it harder for women to identify and address their risk for heart disease.

Understanding these unique risk factors that women face is important to ensure you can take steps to help prevent heart disease as early as possible. Here’s what you can do today to put you on the path toward better heart health:

  • Know your risk for heart disease. This is the first step in taking charge of your cardiovascular health.
  • Don’t wait to take control of your heart health. Seeing a preventive cardiologist is the best way to take charge of your cardiovascular health.
  • Live your best heart-healthy life. Remember that prevention is the first intervention! Try these foods that are good for heart health, exercise regularly and take control of any modifiable risk factors like high blood pressure.

Get heart care near you today.

About the Author

Noah Balarbar, BS, is a medical assistant with the goal of becoming a physician. He has also had experience in emergency medical services, which has further honed his skills and dedication to patient care. Noah aims to become a physician so he can make a positive impact on the lives of others.

Anandita Kulkarni, MD, is a preventive cardiologist and women's heart specialist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White The Heart Hospital – Plano's Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention. Dr. Kulkarni is a national leader in the field of preventive cardiology and lipidology. Her clinical expertise lies in the management of complex lipid disorders, women’s cardiovascular health, South Asian cardiovascular health, and cardiac imaging. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Kulkarni today.

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