Does Menopause Increase Your Risk of Heart Attack? - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on January 13, 2016

Does Menopause Increase Your Risk of Heart Attack?

Post-menopausal women may be at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

Post-menopausal women may be at a
higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

Menopause is a major health milestone in women’s lives. It marks the end of their menstrual cycles and fertility, which triggers a range of physical and emotional side effects.

Symptoms include hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, slowed metabolism, mood swings and more. These symptoms can interrupt your sleep, lower your energy level and, in some cases, cause feelings of sadness, anxiety or loss.

Menopause, and the symptoms and emotions that accompany it, are caused by the ovaries producing less estrogen. It’s this decline in estrogen that may put post-menopausal women at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

It’s believed that estrogen has a positive effect on the inner layer of artery walls, helping keep blood vessels flexible. When blood vessels are flexible, they can relax and expand to accommodate blood flow.

However, estrogen levels aren’t the only factor in a woman’s heart disease risk as she reaches menopause. The body goes through various changes with menopause that may cause blood pressure to go up, LDL or “bad” cholesterol to increase, HDL or “good” cholesterol to decrease or stay the same. Triglycerides, which are fats in the blood, may also increase. All of these are risk factors for heart disease.

But a new study found that post-menopausal women actually still have a lower risk of dying from a heart attack than men do of similar ages. According to the study, women who went through natural menopause have a 55 percent reduced risk of non-fatal heart attacks and other heart events compared to men. And women who had surgically-induced menopause through a hysterectomy had a 35 percent reduced risk than men.

What all of this means is that women need to be mindful of their heart health regardless of their age and menopausal status, especially since heart disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women in the United States.

The first thing you can do to lower your risk of heart disease is by quitting smoking – roughly one out of five heart disease-related deaths is directly related to smoking. Smokers are two to four times more likely to develop heart disease than nonsmokers. Nicotine reduces the amount of oxygen your heart receives, raises your blood pressure, speeds up your heart rate, damages the inside of blood vessels and increases the risk of blood clots. All of those are risk factors for heart disease on top of the fact that smoking increases your risk of lung cancer.

You can also lower your risk of heart disease by managing your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. High blood pressure makes your heart work harder in addition to accelerating plaque build-up in arteries – it is the leading cause of heart failure, stroke and even kidney disease.

When you have high blood sugar levels, you not only have a higher risk of developing diabetes, but it also speeds up the development of plaque in your arteries. Just like high blood pressure, this increases the risk for heart disease and stroke.

LDL, or bad, cholesterol is considered the building block of plaque in arteries. When this level of cholesterol in your blood rises, so does your risk of heart disease.

It’s also important to eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, get to or maintain a healthy weight, and exercise on a regular basis. All of those activities have a direct effect on your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

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