You might have heard about a link between menopause and heart health, but how does this natural biological process affect a woman’s risk for heart disease?
One in three women die from heart disease each year, and it’s important to understand your risk factors and what you can do to keep your risks low.
The Connection Between Menopause and Heart Health
Menopause happens when a woman stops getting her monthly menstrual period. It is a natural process that most women go through, usually around age 51, but it can happen earlier.
During menopause, the ovaries stop making estrogen, a hormone that controls the menstrual cycle. Estrogen may also help keep blood vessels strong and smooth.
While menopause does not cause heart disease, your risk for developing conditions that are linked to heart disease gets higher. Around menopause, you may have:
- A rise in blood pressure
- A higher level of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol
- A lower level of HDL, or “good” cholesterol, which helps remove some of the “bad” cholesterol from your blood
- A higher level of triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood
While there might be a connection between estrogen and a lower risk for heart disease and stroke prior to menopause, taking estrogen is not recommended for heart disease prevention after menopause.
Symptoms of Heart Disease in Women
Both men and women have a higher risk for heart disease as they age. While you may think some symptoms are just a normal part of aging, it’s important to talk to your doctor if you have:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Fluttering in the chest (also called heart palpitations)
- Fatigue, or feeling very tired
- Swelling in your feet or ankles
And, the symptoms of a heart attack can be different for women than they are for men. While most women will have chest pain, arm pain, or shortness of breath, other symptoms may be mild and can include:
- Pressure or pain in the chest that comes and goes
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Pain in the jaw, neck, arm, or back
If you think you or someone else is having a heart attack, call 911 right away. Do not drive yourself or have someone drive you. Paramedics are trained to treat people on the way to the hospital and will provide the fastest way to get there.
Staying Heart-Healthy as You Age
By developing heart-healthy habits early in life, you can help keep your risks low as you get older.
- Choose a heart-healthy diet that is higher in fiber and lower salt, sugar, and processed foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy products can play a big part in your heart health.
- Get regular physical activity. The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, like walking, biking, dancing, or gardening at least five days a week.
- Avoid or quit smoking and using tobacco products. No matter how long you’ve smoked, it’s never too late to quit.
- Find healthy ways to cope with stress. Take up a hobby, try meditation or yoga, and make sure you get regular physical activity.
- Seek treatment for depression. Some studies have shown that middle-aged women with depression are twice as likely to have a stroke.
- Keep regular visits with your doctor. Check-ups will help you keep an eye on your risk factors, talk about symptoms, and get treatment early.
The Magee-Womens Heart Program, part of the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, provides specialized care for women with heart disease. To learn more, call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484).