As someone living with fibroids, you probably feel you already have too much on your plate to worry about. Uncontrollable bleeding, unpredictable cycles, severe pelvic pain, frequent urination are just some of the many symptoms you may battle on a daily basis. One factor that may not be on your radar is an increased heart disease risk.
New studies have shown that women with uterine fibroids seem to have distinctly low “good cholesterol” levels, which is known to protect against heart attacks and strokes. According to a recent article, over 45 percent of women over the age of 20 have elevated cholesterol levels.
Additionally, the same study reported that close to 76 percent of women don’t even know what their numbers are or mean. This gap in education is crucial to close so that women understand the risks of living with high cholesterol and what could potentially cause this to occur.
What Is HDL and LDL Cholesterol?
You may be shocked to learn that there are different kinds of cholesterol that move throughout your body. Even though we tend to make general statements like “cholesterol is bad”, your body needs balanced levels of “good” cholesterol to produce reproductive hormones and digestive bile as well as repair damaged tissue. So, not all cholesterol is created equal, but how can you know which is the right type? The two kinds of cholesterol include:
- LDL (low-density lipoprotein): Often referred to as “bad cholesterol”. High levels of LDL cholesterol raise your risk for heart disease, peripheral artery disease (PAD), and stroke by accumulating on the walls and blocking passageways for blood to travel. The majority of cholesterol in your bloodstream is LDL. Foods that have high levels of saturated fat and salt, as well as processed foods can increase your LDL levels.
- HDL (high-density lipoprotein): Also known as “good cholesterol”. These lipoproteins are able to absorb excess cholesterol and carry it to the liver. The liver does its job and cleanses it from the body. Having increased levels of HDL cholesterol can lower your risk for heart disease, PAD, and stroke. Eating foods like olive oil, legumes, fish, etc. as well as losing weight and exercising regularly can raise your HDL levels.
There are many reasons you may have elevated levels of LDL or HDL cholesterol including genetics, smoking, weight, diet, and physical activity. It’s important to consult your doctor annually about your cholesterol levels and how to manage them effectively.
Estrogen and Cholesterol
Changes in estrogen and cholesterol often go hand-in-hand. When your hormones, especially estrogen, decline this can cause a rise in total cholesterol levels due to increased amounts of LDL as well as triglycerides (fats found in your blood). When estrogen levels decline LDL increases and HDL decreases. This ultimately can lead to plaque buildup with the arteries which can cause heart disease, PAD, and stroke.
Estrogen production and reduction is closely related to different stages of a woman’s life: puberty, pregnancy, perimenopause, as well as menopause. Similarly, how much estrogen your body is producing influences fibroid growth. Unbalanced estrogen levels caused by puberty, pregnancy, perimenopause, genetics, weight, and other lifestyle factors are theorized to cause fibroids to develop.
Both estrogen and cholesterol are important levels that need to be understood and managed. Talk to your doctor if you think you may have elevated numbers.
Menopause and High Cholesterol Levels
If you’re going through menopause and have high cholesterol levels, you’re not alone. During menopause, estrogen drastically declines. This sudden decline of estrogen levels is associated with a progressive increase in total cholesterol. However during menopause, you’re more likely to see an increase in your LDL levels and a decrease in your HDL levels.
Therefore, people who are about to go through menopause or are currently going through this new life stage, should consult their doctor about ways they can manage their “good and bad” cholesterol. Adopting healthy habits can help manage symptoms of menopause and high cholesterol levels.
Uterine fibroids and Hypertension
As we mentioned above, new studies suggest that women living with fibroids have low LDL cholesterol levels, which is known to protect against heart attacks and strokes.
However, another study published by the National Library of Medicine revealed that aging and higher levels of LDL can actually increase your risk of developing fibroids in the first place. But what about blood pressure? Does having high blood pressure and cholesterol levels increase your risk of fibroids? Is cholesterol, uterine fibroids, and hypertension connected?
Yes, hypertension (high blood pressure) and high cholesterol are two factors that increase your overall risk of fibroids. Increased blood pressure can damage the walls of your arteries and other blood vessels. Arteries and vessels aren’t able to withstand the constant high-pressure blood flow; therefore as a result, they can become damaged over time. Tiny tears and damage caused by hypertension create crevices and areas where LDL cholesterol can build up over time. If you have increased levels of LDL and low levels of HDL, the good cholesterol isn’t able to cleanse the blood as efficiently as it should be.
Uterine Fibroids and Cardiovascular Disease
Uterine fibroids have also been associated with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (CVD). There have been multiple studies in the past that examined women with symptomatic fibroids that went under a hysterectomy, which happens to be a risk factor for CVD.
972 women were screened by ultrasound for fibroids at the age range of 15, 20, to 25. The studies showed that 52% of women had fibroids, and the CVD risk factors were more common with those risk factors.
However, it’s important to know that despite women with fibroids having more CVD risk factors, the presence of fibroids is not needed to be at risk for CVD. It is still entirely possible to get CVD without having fibroids.
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How Is Cholesterol, Uterine Fibroids, and Hypertension Connected?
Both of these individual conditions increase cardiovascular disease, especially for women. People living with high LDL cholesterol levels often end up dealing with hypertension as well. And through studies we can see that high cholesterol, uterine fibroids and hypertension all have similar genetic and lifestyle factors.
In fact, you can see the correlation between all three of these issues in African American women. Black women are more likely to develop hypertension, fibroids, and high cholesterol than people of other races. Nearly 80 percent of Black women have fibroids by the age of 50. Approximately 76 percent of Black women developed hypertension by age 55. For cholesterol, close to 37 percent of Black women were at an increased risk for high LDL levels.
Therefore, increased LDL cholesterol as well as uterine fibroids and hypertension are closely related, but researchers still need to establish a direct cause-effect relationship between the three conditions. Consulting your doctor about your personal and family history of blood pressure, cholesterol, and fibroids can help you be proactive about your risk factors.
How to Manage Fibroids and High Cholesterol
It’s important to be aware of these certain risk factors that could lead to cardiovascular disease. Being aware of your family history can help determine if you’re at an increased risk for fibroids and high cholesterol.
For National Cholesterol Month, the Fibroid Fighters Foundation is raising awareness about high cholesterol, uterine fibroids and hypertension. Discussing how these conditions can be related is important in order to be proactive about your health. It’s vital to understand how your hormones, like estrogen, are related to elevated LDL cholesterol levels. By treating fibroids and high cholesterol, you can minimize your cardiovascular risk and live a healthier, more active life without fibroid symptoms.