NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Older women bothered by severe, chronic constipation may have a higher risk of heart disease than those who aren't, according to a U.S. study of older women.
While the findings, based on more than 70,000 postmenopausal women, do not mean that constipation itself explains the extra risk, women with chronic constipation may tend to have more risk factors for heart disease such as a low-fiber diet, too little exercise, and higher rates of high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
"We cannot make definitive recommendations based on this study," said lead researcher Elena Salmoirago-Blotcher, a cardiologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.
"We can only suggest that constipation may be a helpful tool to identify women who may have several risk factors for cardiovascular disease and consequently be at increased cardiovascular risk," she told Reuters Health in an email.
The study, which appeared in the American Journal of Medicine, followed 73,000 women over six to 10 years.
At the start, the women reported on their health and lifestyle habits, including whether they'd had constipation problems over the past month.
Overall, 35 percent had constipation. Over the following years, they were more likely than other women to develop clogged arteries, have a heart attack or stroke, or die of heart disease.
Among women with severe constipation, meaning it disrupted their normal daily routine, just under 2 percent suffered a cardiovascular event each year of the follow-up.
That compared with just under 1 percent of women who had regular bowel movements at the outset. Meanwhile, women with mild to moderate constipation problems fell somewhere in between.
But the link largely disappeared once the researchers accounted for a range of other factors including age, weight, diet, exercise and traditional heart risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.
In the end, only severe constipation remained linked to heart trouble.
Salmoirago-Blotcher said it was hard to draw conclusions from that since it wasn't possible to account for all the factors that might explain a link between constipation and cardiovascular disease. In addition, only a small number of women in the study -- 1.6 percent of the entire group -- reported severe constipation.
More studies are needed to confirm the findings, as well as to see whether they hold true for men and younger adults too.
"Because constipation is easily assessed, it may be a helpful tool to identify women with increased cardiovascular risk," she and her colleagues wrote.
She suggested that perhaps women consider lifestyle changes to manage the problem, rather than relying on laxatives. SOURCE: bit.ly/jnYip9
Reporting by Amy Norton at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies