The Connection Between PCOS and Heart Disease

Approximately 33% of American women will die of heart disease, making it the leading cause of death in this country, even higher than cancer. Several factors can put a woman at an increased risk for increased cardiovascular disease including obesity, poor diet, sedentary diet, smoking, and increased alcohol intake.

Woman having her blood pressure tested
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Cardiovascular Risk Factors for PCOS

Having PCOS increases a woman’s chances of getting heart-related complications.

This is due to the higher levels of insulin that have been associated with PCOS and are known to increase one’s risk for elevated triglycerides, low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), high cholesterol, blood pressure, and atherosclerosis. These conditions can increase your risk for a heart attack and stroke.


Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a silent condition, which is why many people don’t even know if they have high blood pressure. Blood pressure is a measure of the force of the blood moving through the blood vessels. When elevated, blood pressure can indicate that the heart is moving harder to circulate the blood. This can be caused by a hardening of the blood vessel walls from plaque accumulation or atherosclerosis.

Insulin resistance, obstructive sleep apnea, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and obesity are also linked to elevated blood pressure.

Abnormal Cholesterol Levels

Having PCOS can put you at risk for elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels and low levels of HDL (“good” cholesterol”). Cholesterol is made in our own bodies and influenced by what we eat everyday.

Elevated levels of cholesterol are one of the identifying factors of metabolic syndrome. Having high cholesterol, low HDL, or high triglycerides increases the risk for heart attack and stroke.


Atherosclerosis is the build-up of hard, fatty plaques in the arteries. This can damage the blood vessels and impede normal blood flow throughout the body.

Without sufficient blood flow transporting nutrients and oxygen to the extremities and essential body organs, severe damage can occur.

Reducing the Risk

So what can you do to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease later in life? The first step is to have your blood pressure and cholesterol checked routinely and talk to your healthcare provider about your risk factors.

The most important thing you can do is to maintain a healthy weight through diet and exercise. Reducing your intake of saturated fat and salt is important. Sources of saturated fat typically include animal products such as red meat, processed poultry, and butter. Instead, replace saturated fat with unsaturated sources of fat such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados.

Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, which contain fiber and phytonutrients, is also important.

Additionally, including 2 grams each day of plant stanols has been shown to reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease.

Losing weight, increasing activity or exercise and quitting smoking are all interventions that work together to reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease.

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  • Baldani DP, Skrgatic L, Ougouag R.Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: Important Underrecognised Cardiometabolic Risk Factor in Reproductive-Age Women. Int J Endocrinol. 2015;2015

  • Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (PDF)