Women's Heart Advisor October 2011 Issue

Chronic Constipation May Signify Higher Risk of Heart Disease

If you suffer from chronic constipation, see your cardiologist.

A study published online June 10, 2011, in the American Journal of Medicine found that older women with chronic constipation may have a higher risk of heart disease than women with regular bowel habits. Constipation was defined as fewer than three bowel movements a week.

Constipation does not cause heart disease. However, certain risk factors for heart disease appear to increase the risk of constipation. These include lack of fiber in the diet, insufficient exercise, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

The study followed 73,000 postmenopausal women for up to a decade, noting their health and lifestyle habits. The 35 percent who were bothered by constipation were the most likely to develop atherosclerosis, suffer a heart attack or stroke or die of heart disease. Two percent of those who complained of severe constipation suffered a cardiovascular event every year, as compared with one percent of “regular” women.

While the authors did not draw any conclusions from the study, they did suggest that constipation may serve as a marker—a warning sign—for increased risk of heart disease. The good news is that simple measures such as adding more fiber to the diet  in the form of fruits, vegetables and grains, drinking more water and getting more exercise—can help solve constipation and may lower heart risk in the process.

Heart Disease In Women Proves Costly
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women. It’s also the costliest to treat. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), $43.6 billion was spent in 2008 treating women with heart disease, and more than half of this amount (52 percent) was paid by Medicare. The amount was $5.9 billion more than it cost to treat women with cancer, the second most expensive disease.

Although $43.6 billion is a staggering figure, it does not accurately reflect the cost of caring for women with heart disease. That’s because patients with heart disease frequently have diabetes, hypertension or hyperlipidemia, which were also among the top 10 most costly conditions. In fact, 29.5 million women in the U.S. have hypertension, which cost $25.9 billion that year to treat. Diabetes was not far behind at $23.2 billion.