Hot flashes, hair thinning, and insomnia may seem like symptoms of a serious illness, but menopause is just a natural phase of a woman’s life. This time can be uncomfortable, but it can also be a good reminder to take stock of your life and health and make some important resolutions for the future, especially when it comes to your heart.
Menopause and Your Heart
Menopause typically occurs in women age 47-54, and after age 50, close to half of all deaths in women is due to some type of cardiovascular disease. Heart disease remains the number one killer of women, so it makes sense to understand the risk factors and pay attention to your heart as you enter or progress through menopause.
There are various factors that contribute to a woman’s risk of heart disease. A new study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology shows that a shortened reproductive phase of a woman’s life can lead to an increase in her risk of developing heart disease. In other words, if the time between her first menstruation and the beginning of menopause was shorter than “normal” (menstruation after age 12 or menopause before age 47), she is more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease later in life.
There is a strong link between your family history of heart disease and your risk of contracting the disease, so knowing your family history can be very important for you and your doctor to assess your health needs. Hormone levels may also play a role in the increased risk of heart disease during menopause. The reason for this is that estrogen helps strengthen the artery walls, which helps blood flow properly to and from your heart. In menopause, estrogen levels decrease making those artery walls less flexible, and this could put strain on your heart because it is working harder to pump blood through the blood vessels.
Things You Can Control
Family history, hormone levels, age of menstruation, and onset of menopause are not things you can control. As menopause approaches, it is important to turn your focus to the things you can control. During menopause a number of things naturally increase that can contribute to your risks of heart disease—blood pressure, LDL or “bad” cholesterol, triglycerides, and certain blood fats. In addition, there is definite research showing that choices a woman makes earlier in her life have an effect on her heart health later, so here are some healthy choices you can make now, no matter what age you are, to decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Quit Smoking – You can cut your risk of heart attack in half just by quitting smoking!
- Exercise – Aim for 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week. Exercise alone lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, helps with weight loss, and decreases blood sugar levels. Wow!
- Eat Healthy – Make heart-healthy foods part of your regular diet. These include whole grains, fruits and veggies, fish, nuts, and low-fat dairy. Avoid high-sugar foods and limit red meats.
- Medical Conditions – Certain conditions like diabetes can increase your risk of heart disease, so take medications as directed, and have regular checkups with your doctor in order to monitor the associated risks.
Menopause can be a challenging time for many women, so if you are concerned about your general health, or if you want to better understand your risks for heart disease, make an appointment today at the TrustCare Heart Clinic. We offer a comprehensive heart screening that can help you assess how healthy your heart is. We would be happy to discuss your personal situation and help you feel more confident as you enter this age of wisdom!