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How menopause impacts women’s risk of heart disease

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We talked recently about heart health and how we can help analyze patients’ cardiovascular risk. But for women, it’s especially important to understand how aging, and menopause specifically, can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and a cardiovascular event. Because, frankly, the data are astonishing and women should be aware of their heightened risk of this harrowing disease.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women over age 40, especially after menopause. Heart disease killed 314,186 women in the U.S. in 2020, representing approximately 1 of every 5 female deaths. As women age, and go through menopause, their bodies produce less estrogen. A loss of estrogen can also happen with certain prescription medications and surgeries that remove the ovaries, such as a hysterectomy.

Estrogen is most commonly known as the sex hormone that supports the development and regulation of the female reproductive system. But estrogen also impacts the heart and blood vessels (along with bones, breasts the brain and so much more!). This decrease in naturally occurring estrogen may lead to an increased risk of heart disease in women.

Other age- and menopause-related changes, including increased weight (body fat distribution), build-up of fat along artery walls, changes in lipids, lipoproteins, blood pressure, arterial stiffness, and beyond can increase risk for women. Diabetes and heart disease often go hand in hand, and screening for early detection, and managing diabetes is crucial to maintaining a healthy heart and blood vessels.

“…[women] have a notable increase in the risk for this disease after menopause… The [menopause transition is] a time of accelerating CVD risk, thereby emphasizing the importance of monitoring women’s health during midlife, a critical window for implementing early intervention strategies to reduce CVD risk…The [menopause transition] is a period of significant symptomatic, hormonal, menstrual, and other physiological changes that are relevant to CVD risk.” (AHA Journals)

Women of all ages should be cognizant of their heart health, especially as they approach and enter menopause, though younger women aren’t immune as the rate of heart attacks in women 35-54 is increasing. In addition to knowing your numbers, there are many steps you can take every day to improve your heart health, including things as simple as choosing healthy foods and drinks and watching your blood pressure, weight and stress! If you want help understanding and improving your heart health, let our team know that during your next consultation or annual workup you’d like to do a cardio risk analysis and discuss ways to optimize your heart health as you get older.