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Menopause starts a new phase of life for women.
What some women may not realize, however, is that menopause also marks an increased risk for heart disease.
While menopause does not cause heart disease, studies have shown post-menopausal women are at a greater risk for cardiovascular disease than pre-menopausal women.
Estrogen is believed to have a positive effect on the inner lining of the artery wall, making it easier for blood to flow. A woman’s natural levels of estrogen decrease during menopause.
Studies have also suggested that women who experience menopause at an earlier age (the average age for menopause is 51) also have a greater risk for heart disease. The overall risk for heart attack increases about 10 years after a woman experiences menopause.
While hormone therapy can help address other symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and vaginal discomfort, experts do not recommend using hormone therapy during menopause strictly for its heart benefit. In fact, in older women, hormone therapy can put them at risk for blood clots or stroke.
Hormonal changes during menopause may also result in other changes in your body. The loss of estrogen, for example, can cause your arteries to stiffen and become less flexible leading to high blood pressure. You may also see your cholesterol levels change as you go through menopause.
Experts agree that more study is needed on the effect menopause has on women’s heart health. They also note that other factors — such as body weight, family history of heart disease, diabetes and a person’s overall health — also increase a person’s risk for heart disease.
Bottom line: Your body is changing and menopause needs to be viewed as more than a gynecological issue. Take control of your health during this time of change and get in for regular heart screenings, inquire about your blood pressure and get your cholesterol tested.
You can also take steps now — no matter what phase of life you are in — to protect your heart health.
Adopting a healthy diet, exercising regularly (the American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes a day), maintaining a healthy weight, decreasing your stress levels and taking steps to quit smoking if you smoke, can all help you get healthier.
Edward-Elmhurst Health is one of Healthgrades America’s 100 Best Hospitals for Cardiac Care™ and 50 Best Hospitals for Cardiac Surgery™ Learn more.
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