Menopause and Heart Health

Menopause Changes Your Heart Risk, But You Can Take Control!

Some things get better with age — going through menopause usually doesn’t make the list. As if hot flashes, night sweats and mood changes were not enough, complex hormonal changes that take place during menopause increase a woman’s risk for heart and vascular disease. This risk is exacerbated in women who experience menopause between ages 40-44. They are actually 40 percent more likely to suffer from heart and vascular disease, including having a heart attack, severe chest pain or stroke.

Over the past 23 years, the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) has advanced our understanding of the impact of the transition to menopause and midlife aging on health and well-being in women. This research has found that menopause accelerates physical changes that increase your risk for heart and vascular disease

•Women experience changes in their blood fats (e.g., more LDL “bad” fat; HDL “good fat” becomes less effective at removing cholesterol)

•An increase in body fat, loss of lean body mass and changes in body fat distribution (e.g., more abdominal fat) affect heart and vascular disease risk.

•Vascular changes (e.g., artery stiffness and increased plaque buildup) also occur.

Even though these changes happen with menopause, engaging in healthy behaviors can offset or lessen the effects. Unfortunately, SWAN found only 1.7 percent of women in the study engaged in healthy behaviors over time. Consider these strategies to take control of your heart health and reduce your risk:

  • Talk to your doctor about assessing your risk for heart and vascular disease. Tell your doctor about any pregnancy complications (high blood pressure, preeclampsia-severe high blood pressure, swelling and protein in the urine, gestational diabetes or if you delivered a preterm baby)
  • Know and manage your blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Take any heart attack symptoms seriously and get the care you need. Call 911 within five minutes of any symptoms.
  • Quit smoking — it’s the single best thing you can do for your health. Avoiding secondhand smoke can be as beneficial.
  • Be active — sit less and move more! Get up to move every hour or so. Aim for 150 minutes of weekly exercise.
  • Eat heart healthy and increase activity to prevent weight and body fat gains. Move toward a healthy body weight.
  • Take time to relax and unwind. Understand what in your life you can and cannot control.
  • Stay positive. Going through menopause can feel like a huge life change. Sometimes after menopause, women become depressed. Depression leads to greater risk of heart disease and almost doubles the risk of stroke in middle-aged women. Face this time of your life with positivity and resilience by celebrating life, connecting with others and practicing self-care.


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