Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States and the risk of developing heart disease increases as women enter menopause. This is due to the drop in estrogen levels that occurs during menopause. Women’s risk of heart disease may also increase if they smoke, have diabetes, have high blood pressure, are obese, or have a family history of heart disease. Continue reading to learn how menopause and heart disease are linked and which symptoms to be mindful of.
Menopause is found to raise heart disease risk and is linked to more fat around the heart. The findings come from researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, where they found that menopausal women are at a higher risk for heart disease compared to their premenopausal counterparts.
The findings stem from hormone changes that occur during menopause. It is known that estrogen provides many protective properties when it comes to health, so when estrogen levels drop during menopause, women can become at risk for an assortment of different health problems, including heart disease.
Lead author Samar R. El Khoudary said, “Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women, and it increases after age 50 – the average age when a woman is going through menopause. By showing that menopause appears to be associated with a shift in fat deposits that leads to more fat around the heart, we’ve uncovered a new potential contributor to increased risk of cardiovascular disease in women.”
Weight gain is commonly seen in menopause, but it was previously attributed to aging and not menopause itself. Researchers have recently found mechanisms that occur during menopause and may be linked to weight gain, but have nothing to do with aging. Fat composition and distribution have been found to be related to fluctuations in hormones instead.
The researchers found that as the hormone estradiol decreased, there was a higher accumulation of fat around the heart. Even taking into account other factors that could contribute to fat around the heart, the relationship still remained.
Dr. El Khoudary added, “Developing prevention strategies to reduce cardiovascular fat in women at midlife may reduce their heart disease risk, especially knowing that the menopausal transition puts women at risk for excess fat around their hearts.”
“Previous studies suggest that reducing heart fat is feasible through weight loss or weight management, but these studies only looked at small numbers of people, and there have been no clinical trials linking cardiovascular outcomes with heart fat changes due to weight management interventions. Clearly, there is a need for larger scale studies to determine the best intervention strategies to help post-menopausal women reduce fat near the heart,” Dr. El Khoudary concluded.
Women who are postmenopausal should be mindful of the specific symptoms associated with the development of heart disease and heart attacks that pertain to them. Symptoms including sleep disturbances, nausea, vomiting, indigestion, shortness of breath, and feelings of anxiety may be telling of a heart attack and should be addressed by your doctor.
In comparison, the symptoms of heart disease in postmenopausal women include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, pressure in the chest, headaches, light-headedness, dizziness, jaw pain, swelling in the feet, and difficulty lying flat on the back.
If you are a woman over 50 or are postmenopausal and are experiencing any combination of these symptoms, it is important to make an appointment with your doctor so he or she can help you determine the underlying cause and begin prevention or treatment strategies.
Even though hormones can change during menopause—which may put your heart at risk—there are still many other controllable factors that you can consider in order to reduce your risk of heart disease. Such factors include:
●Preventing or managing diabetes
●Controlling cholesterol levels
●Maintaining a healthy weight
●Becoming physically active
●Monitoring your blood pressure
These factors are all controllable aspects that can increase your defense against developing heart disease. A family history of heart disease increases your risk as well, so speak to your doctor right away about what you can begin to do today in order to further lower your risk.