Women who’ve had endometriosis carry an elevated risk of stroke with them for the rest of their lives, with the greatest risk found in women who’ve had a hysterectomy with an oophorectomy, according to a cohort study of the Nurses’ Health Study.
“This is yet additional evidence that those girls and women with endometriosis are having effects across their lives and in multiple aspects of their health and well-being,” senior study author Stacey A. Missmer, ScD, of the Michigan State University, East Lansing, said in an interview. “This is not, in quotes ‘just a gynecologic condition,’ ” Dr. Missmer added. “It is not strictly about the pelvic pain or infertility, but it really is about the whole health across the life course.”
The study included 112,056 women in the NHSII cohort study who were followed from 1989 to June 2017, documenting 893 incident cases of stroke among them – an incidence of less than 1%. Endometriosis was reported in 5,244 women, and 93% of the cohort were White.
Multivariate adjusted models showed that women who had laparoscopically confirmed endometriosis had a 34% greater risk of stroke than women without a history of endometriosis. Leslie V. Farland, ScD, of the University of Arizona, Tucson, was lead author of the study.
While previous studies have demonstrated an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, angina, and atherosclerosis in women who’ve had endometriosis, this is the first study that has confirmed an additional increased risk of stroke, Dr. Missmer said.
Another novel finding, Dr. Missmer said, is that while the CVD risks for these women “seem to peak at an earlier age,” the study found no age differences for stroke risk. “That also reinforces that these stroke events are often happening in an age range typical for stroke, which is further removed from when women are thinking about their gynecologic health specifically.”
These findings don’t translate into a significantly greater risk for stroke overall in women who’ve had endometriosis, Dr. Missmer said. She characterized the risk as “not negligible, but it’s not a huge increased risk.” The absolute risk is still fairly low, she said.
“We don’t want to give the impression that all women with endometriosis need to be panicked or fearful about stroke, she said. “Rather, the messaging is that this yet another bit of evidence that whole health care for those with endometriosis is important.”
Women who’ve had endometriosis and their primary care providers need to be attuned to stroke risk, she said. “This is a critical condition that primary care physicians need to engage around, and perhaps if symptoms related to cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease emerge in their patients, they need to be engaging cardiology and similar types of support. This is not just about the gynecologists.”
The study also explored other factors that may contribute to stroke risk, with the most significant being hysterectomy with bilateral oophorectomy, Dr. Missmer said.
This study was unique because it used laparoscopically confirmed rather than self-reported endometriosis, said Louise D. McCullough, MD, neurology chair at the University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston. Another strength of the study she noted was its longitudinal design, although the cohort study design yielded a low number of stroke patients.
“Regardless, I do think it was a very important study because we have a growing recognition about how women’s health and factors such as pregnancy, infertility, parity, complications, and gonadal hormones such as estrogen can influence a woman’s stroke risk much later in life,” Dr. McCullough said in an interview.
Future studies into the relationship between endometriosis and CVD and stroke risk should focus on the mechanism behind the inflammation that occurs in endometriosis, Dr. McCullough said. “Part of it is probably the loss of hormones if a patient has to have an oophorectomy, but part of it is just what do these diseases do for a woman’s later risk – and for primary care physicians, ob.gyns., and stroke neurologists to recognize that these are questions we should ask: Have you ever had eclampsia or preeclampsia? Did you have endometriosis? Have you had miscarriages?”
The study received funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Dr. Missmer disclosed relationships with Shanghai Huilun Biotechnology, Roche, and AbbVie. Dr. McCullough has no relevant disclosures.