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Menopause and Heart Disease – Are They Connected?

mature woman sitting on a bench

As people age, their risk of heart disease increases. Women especially are susceptible to heart related diseases as they get older. According to American Heart Association, more than one in three female adults has some form of cardiovascular disease. After a woman has gone through menopause, their risk of heart disease increases. Menopause itself does not actually cause cardiovascular issues, however, the risk factors associated with a poor diet, smoking and drinking alcohol, for example, increase post-menopause. Research indicates that an overall increase in heart attacks among women is seen about 10 years post-menopause.

What is menopause?
In the simplest terms, menopause is when a woman stops having menstrual cycles. women walking in parkTypically, a woman who has not had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months can be diagnosed with menopause. Most women will begin menopause in their 50s, however, some may experience pre-menopausal (perimenopausal) symptoms as young as 40, due to genetics. Menopause is a natural biological process that can affect a woman’s body in many ways. The most typical physical symptoms include:

  • Hot flashes
  • Mood changes
  • Weight gain
  • Disruption in sleep patterns

How are menopause and heart disease related?

As previously mentioned, menopause doesn’t cause heart disease per se. But women who lead an unhealthy lifestyle, which includes a poor diet and smoking and/or drinking, will increase their chances of heart disease after menopause. A woman’s risk of developing heart disease depends on many factors, including her family medical history, personal medical history, and lifestyle practices. As well, menopause decreases the level of estrogen produced in the body, which may increase risk of heart disease in women.

You can read more on heart disease in women in our blog Heart Disease in Women – Understand The Symptoms and Risk Factors.

Does estrogen play a role in heart disease?

Before menopause, women have a lower risk of heart disease than men do. But as women age, and their estrogen levels decline after menopause, their risk of heart disease increases. As a result, many women in their 40s start to think about Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). HRT involves taking medications that contain female hormones to replace the ones the body no longer produces after menopause. HRT also has been shown to prevent bone loss in women post-menopause.

Not everyone is suited for HRT, so make sure to talk to your doctor about HRT and its benefits and potential side effects.

Post-menopause lifestyle changes for your heart health

fruits and veggiesAs we get older, we must begin to think about making positive lifestyle changes that will benefit our heart health. This is especially true for women, post-menopause. By making simple yet effective lifestyle changes, a woman can decrease her risk of heart disease. A balanced diet low in sodium and fat can make a huge difference in maintaining heart health.

To find out what kinds of foods are good for you and your heart, read our blog 12 Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables That Are Good For Your Heart (And Why!).

If you smoke or drink, you may want to consider quitting or at the very least, decreasing your usage of cigarettes and/or alcohol. Research continues to support that smoking and drinking are detrimental to the heart and can lead to heart disease and other diseases. Talk to your doctor about how you can quit.

Menopause is a part of the biological process in women – it cannot be prevented. That said, it’s important for women to understand what symptoms to expect during the perimenopausal and post-menopausal phases. It’s also crucial for women to consider making positive lifestyle changes to decrease their risk of heart disease. If you need support, speak to your doctor, see a nutritionist and implement exercise into your routine, if you haven’t already done so. Menopause is a part of life, but by making small adjustments to your diet and lifestyle, you can be heart healthy and live a long happy life!