Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, tends to be associated with killer cramps, mood swings and fatigue. New research suggests another reason to dread it: Bad PMS could also be linked to high blood pressure.
Women with severe PMS might be more likely to develop hypertension and heart disease, a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found. The researchers' conclusion was not that bad PMS causes high blood pressure, but that hypertension and bad PMS might be triggered by certain common underlying mechanisms.
According to lead author Elizabeth R. Bertone-Johnson, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts, those mechanisms include:
1. dysfunction of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system that regulates blood pressure and fluid balance;
2. obesity, which is a risk factor for both conditions;
3. chronic low-grade inflammation, which also contributes to hypertension and in some of our previous work is associated with PMS as well;
4. deficiencies in micronutrients, including B vitamins, calcium and other minerals and vitamin D, which have been associated with PMS risk and also contribute to hypertension.
Fortunately, "these are largely detectable by blood tests," Bertone-Johnson told Mic.
To conduct their study, Bertone-Johnson and her fellow researchers analyzed period data from thousands of women — 1,257 with "clinically significant PMS" and 2,463 of similar ages but with "few menstrual symptoms."
The data was first collected for a Nurses' Health Study beginning in 1989, according to Refinery29. In that study, besides describing their PMS symptoms, participants also reported their blood pressure and hypertension diagnoses between 1991 and 2005.
Refinery29 reports the study found women with bad PMS were 40% more likely to develop hypertension than their non-cramping counterparts. The correlation was even stronger among participants under 40: For those with bad PMS, the risk factor for developing hypertension was more than three times higher than it was for those without PMS.
B vitamins, the researchers also found, might help those women experiencing PMS and high blood pressure.
"We found that an association of PMS and hypertension didn't exist in women who consume a high level of several B vitamins," Bertone-Johnson said. "This suggests that high B vitamin intake may help control blood pressure in women with PMS, which needs to be formally tested in additional studies."
"Women experiencing PMS should consider increasing their B vitamin intake," she continued, "which may both improve their menstrual symptoms and help prevent increases in blood pressure."
Shouldn't we make physicians aware of the study's findings? Not quite yet. Since this study is among the first to explore the connection between PMS and high blood pressure, "it's too early to make comprehensive clinical recommendations," Bertone-Johnson said.
"However, because hypertension is increasing in prevalence and has substantial long-term health implications," she said, "physicians may consider screening women with PMS more aggressively."