Menopause is the ceasing of menstrual cycles in women and is signaled by 12 months following last menstruation. It is a normal condition women experience and caused by the natural decline in reproductive hormones, especially estrogen.
Low estrogen levels lead to classic and common symptoms of menopause. These include hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, depression, and low sex drive.
Reduced reproductive hormones also increase the risk of more serious health conditions, including metabolic syndrome and heart disease. What's more, heart disease increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and death.
Despite these higher risks that come with menopause, women can take control of heart health and ensure healthy aging.
Increased Risk in Heart Disease After Menopause
An estimated 85.6 million American adults have one or more types of heart disease. Of these adults, 43.7 million are estimated to be over 60 years of age.
What’s more, heart disease is the leading cause of death in women after menopause according to a US Cardiology review. In fact, more women die from heart disease and stroke than the next five causes of death combined, including breast cancer!
There are a number of risk factors that can cause heart disease, including age and genetics. However, changes in hormones are thought to dramatically increase risk in menopausal women.
Relationship Between Hormones and Heart Disease
Changing hormones, particularly estrogen, are at the core of menopause and heart issues. Menopausal risk factors associated with heart disease often include:
• Abnormal cholesterol levels: Menopause and estrogen effects cholesterol, particularly increasing LDL and decreasing HDL levels. This can cause atherogenesis, when blood vessels form fatty plaques, and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
• Weight gain: The combination of declining metabolism, estrogen, and physical activity increases the risk of weight gain. Estrogen deficiency is also thought to change body fat distribution, in which women start carrying more weight in the abdomen. Excess fat carried around the abdomen increases the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
• Insulin resistance: Menopausal women often become resistant to insulin, a hormone that helps the body use glucose for energy. Insulin resistance can result in type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and dyslipidemia.
How to Reduce Heart Disease Risk In Menopause
While menopausal women are at great risk of cardiovascular disease, there are several ways one can care for the heart. According to the American Heart Association's Go Red® for women, prevent heart disease after menopause by:
• Getting regular screens: This includes getting cholesterol checked every five years, blood pressure every two, and blood sugars every three. Check waist circumference as needed and body mass index checked during every regular healthcare visit.
• Exercising regularly: Aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week. Adding two to three strength training sessions can also help manage weight and protect from muscle loss as women age. Regular exercise can reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, too.
• Eating a healthy diet: A healthy diet is paramount for a healthy heart and weight. Diet recommendations can vary based on a number of factors, including age and activity level. Place the focus on eating a balanced diet comprised of whole foods rich in fiber, lean protein, and healthy fat. Limit the intake of overly processed foods often laden in refined flour, added sugar, oil, and salt.
• Staying positive: Menopausal women are at risk of developing depression, which can almost double the risk of stroke. Try to stay in a positive mindset with exercise, meditation, and other positive stress-relieving techniques.
Other heart-healthy tips include:
• Managing weight and other health conditions: Manage weight and other health conditions through lifestyle modifications and medications as needed. Doing so can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and improve overall health.
• Smoking cessation: Smoking raises heart disease risk significantly, as can cause fatty buildups in the arteries and increase blood pressure. It may decrease exercise tolerance and the ability for blood to clot, too. Being exposed to other people’s secondhand smoke can further increase the risk of heart disease, even for nonsmokers. If you smoke, there is no better time to quit!
• Limiting alcohol intake: Drinking too much can increase weight, blood pressure, and triglycerides, in turn increasing heart disease risk. Moderation is key if choosing to drink, in which women should limit alcohol to no more than one drink per day. Also stick to standard drinking sizes. This includes 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.
• Ensuring adequate sleep: The risks of sleep deprivation can be quite destructive to overall health. Inadequate sleep can lead to weight gain and chronic health conditions, including heart disease.
Ultimately, though, consult with the professionals to help determine heart disease risk and steps to take to prevent it. A dietitian can also provide individual dietary recs to support heart health, manage weight, and improve overall health.
A doctor can likewise make recommendations regarding menopause, including whether or not hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may be useful. Because while the benefits of estrogen may involve heart health, HRT can come with additional risks.