By Dr. David Scales
As if the symptoms of PMS itself weren’t bad enough — the hot flashes, dizziness, cramping, trouble sleeping — now researchers have found a possible link to high blood pressure.
Currently, doctors are naturally aware of Premenstrual Syndrome, but are not thinking about it as a warning sign that a patient is at risk for developing health problems down the line. A new study by Dr. Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson, an epidemiologist at UMass, and her colleagues may soon change that.
They studied over 1,200 women — all part of a well-known and long-followed group called the Nurses’ Health Study — who developed at least moderate PMS. The researchers matched them to twice the number of women without PMS symptoms and looked for links to the diagnosis of high blood pressure.
Their analysis, published this week in the Journal of Epidemiology, found women with moderate-to-severe PMS had a 40 percent higher risk of developing high blood pressure over the next 20 years than the control group that experienced few PMS symptoms.
The researchers took into account factors we already know lead to hypertension, such as obesity, smoking or a lack of exercise.
Still, the study had a number of limitations, so it will need to be repeated to make sure the link between PMS and high blood pressure holds up to scrutiny.
Dr. Bertone-Johnson and her colleagues are also looking into ways to prevent the symptoms of PMS. So far, they have found that high dietary intake of certain vitamins like thiamine, riboflavin or vitamin D as well as calcium can lower the risk of developing PMS. Another study by Bertone-Johnson’s group suggested increased iron and zinc intake may be protective.
These studies are preliminary, though, so I wouldn’t go out and load up on vitamins, iron and zinc –- but they do suggest that PMS may be treatable, and that treatment might help prevent some of its potentially harmful downstream consequences.