Clinical review: Cardiovascular consequences of ovarian disruption: a focus on functional hypothalamic amenorrhea in physically active women

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Dec;96(12):3638-48. doi: 10.1210/jc.2011-1223. Epub 2011 Sep 28.


Context: Evidence indicates that hypoestrogenemia is linked with accelerated progression of atherosclerosis. Premenopausal women presenting with ovulatory disruption due to functional hypothalamic amenorrhea (FHA) are characterized by hypoestrogenemia. One common and reversible form of FHA in association with energy deficiency is exercise-associated amenorrhea (EAA).

Evidence acquisition: Articles were found via PubMed search for both original and review articles based on peer review publications between 1974 and 2011 reporting on cardiovascular changes in women with FHA, with emphasis placed on women with EAA.

Evidence synthesis: Despite participation in regular exercise training, hypoestrogenic women with EAA demonstrate paradoxical changes in cardiovascular function, including endothelial dysfunction, a known permissive factor for the progression and development of atherosclerosis. Such alterations suggest that the beneficial effects of regular exercise training on vascular function are obviated in the face of hypoestrogenemia. The long-term cardiovascular consequences of altered vascular function in response to ovulatory disruption in women with EAA remain to be determined. Retrospective data, however, suggest premature development and progression of coronary artery disease in older premenopausal women reporting a history of hypothalamic ovulatory disruption. Importantly, in women with EAA, estrogen therapy, folic acid supplementation without change in menstrual status, and resumption of menses restores endothelial function. In this review, we focus on the influence of hypoestrogenemia in association with energy deficiency in mediating changes in cardiovascular function in women with EAA, including endothelial function, regional blood flow, lipid profile, and autonomic control of blood pressure, heart rate, and baroreflex sensitivity. The influence of exercise training is also considered.

Conclusion: With the premenopausal years typically considered to be cardioprotective in association with normal ovarian function, ovarian disruption in women with EAA is of importance. Further investigation of the short-term, and potentially long-term, cardiovascular consequences of hypoestrogenemia in women with EAA is recommended.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amenorrhea / complications*
  • Atherosclerosis / etiology*
  • Estrogens / deficiency*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamic Diseases / complications*


  • Estrogens