While women at any age may be at risk for heart disease, some risk factors for heart disease increase around the time women experience menopause, usually between age 51 and 54.
"Menopause doesn't cause heart disease, but it's a time of life when women should take stock of their cardiovascular health," said Smriti Banthia, MD, a cardiologist with Franciscan Physician Network Indiana Heart Physicians in Indianapolis. “In fact, a woman's risk of having a heart attack before menopause is much lower than a man's at the same age. But 10 years after menopause, the number of women having heart attacks rises significantly."
Can Estrogen Levels Cause Heart Problems?
Experts believe estrogen, a hormone that declines over menopause, has a positive effect on blood vessels, keeping their inner linings flexible. As estrogen levels wane, the blood vessels are impacted.
In fact, studies show that women who experience early menopause naturally, or have had their ovaries removed before age 40, were shown to be at a higher risk for heart disease.
After menopause, other changes occur in many women, including a rise in blood pressure and cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Does HRT Help Your Heart?
So is estrogen replacement the answer to heart concerns after menopause? Not really, said Dr. Banthia.
"While hormone replacement therapy can help some women manage their menopausal symptoms for a few years, there's really no evidence that it helps lower your risk of cardiovascular disease," she said. "Plus, hormone replacement therapy does have its risks, such as blood clots and stroke."
How Can I Protect My Heart During Menopause?
The best defense against heart disease is a good offense, no matter your age. If you eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight and don’t smoke before you hit menopause, you'll be better prepared to age gracefully through "the change."
But there are many ways you can be proactive in your post-menopausal heart health.
"Make conscientious choices today for your future self and for your family," said Dr. Banthia.
Talk to your doctor about your numbers
Discuss your blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels with your doctor and ways to manage them better, whether through lifestyle changes or medications. Talk about weight and ask for help in setting a weight loss goal.
Learn more about your family health history
Our risk for a heart attack lies, in large part, in our genes, so let your doctor know if any immediate relatives have had high blood pressure, heart attack, heart surgery or stroke.
Smoking affects a woman's risk of heart disease even more significantly than it does a man's. Discuss quitting options with your doctor.
Manage your diabetes
Because it affects the blood circulation over time, diabetes increases your risk of heart disease.
Eat a low-fat, high-fiber diet
Make diet changes slowly if you need to by including more vegetables into your diet, cutting back or eliminating red meat and limiting the amount of processed foods you eat.
Regular exercise can help you manage your weight, raise good cholesterol and lower triglycerides. Thirty minutes for five days a week is a good place to start.
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