The menopause and heart disease
A woman's risk of problems from heart disease is lower than it is for a man, until the menopause.
After the menopause, the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) increases and keeps rising as a woman gets older.
Menopause adding to other risk factors
Reaching the menopause is just one of several heart disease risk factors for women, including:
How is heart disease linked to the menopause?
Heart disease becomes more of a risk for women after the menopause, possibly because younger women gain protection from high levels of circulating oestrogen.
Some women may notice their heart beating more, or palpitations, during menopause. This should be checked by a GP, but does not usually mean the woman has heart problems.
How can menopausal women reduce their risk of heart disease?
A healthy lifestyle goes a long way in helping to prevent heart disease. Incorporating the following tips into your everyday life may help you to reduce your risk of heart disease during and after the menopause.
- Avoid or stop smoking. Smokers have twice the risk of heart attack than non-smokers. In addition to eliminating cigarettes, stay away from other peoples' smoke. Second hand smoke also increases the risk of heart disease.
- Maintain a healthy body weight. The more you weigh, the harder your heart has to work to circulate your blood to get oxygen and nutrients around your body. Research has shown that being overweight contributes to the onset of heart disease.
- Exercise for 30 minutes at least five times per week. The heart is like any other muscle in that it needs to be worked to keep it strong and healthy. Being active or exercising regularly (ideally, at least 30 minutes every day) helps improve how well the heart pumps blood through your body. Activity and exercise also help reduce many other risk factors. It helps lower high blood pressure and cholesterol, reduces stress, helps keep weight off and improves blood glucose levels.
- Eat well. Follow a diet low in saturated fat; low in trans fat (partially hydrogenated fats); and high in fibre, whole grains, pulses (such as beans and peas), fruits, vegetables, fish, folate-rich foods, and soya.
- Treat and control medical conditions. Diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure are known risk factors for heart disease.
Can hormone replacement therapy reduce my risk of heart disease?
Doctors used to think that HRT for menopause symptoms also helped protect against heart disease.
However, more recent research suggests that is not the cases, and some types of HRT may cause a slight increase in heart and stroke risks, as well as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism.
This does not mean HRT is not suitable for all women during menopause. A doctor will weigh-up individual circumstances and for most women under 60, the benefits of HRT tend to outweigh the risks.