While menopausal women are highly aware of hot flashes and other symptoms associated with this transition, the link between menopause and heart disease is still controversial.
Women under age 50 typically have a lower risk than men of heart disease andcardiovascular complications such as a stroke. At menopause, the risk evens out between the sexes.
Menopause is marked by the decline of estrogen production. Although research remains very conflicted and generally inconclusive, reduced estrogen levels may play part in a woman’s increased risk for heart disease.
A study in 1977 by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health found that women aged 45 to 54 had more than double the rate of heart attacks if they had gone through menopause. The study also found that postmenopausal women undergoing hormone therapy had a doubled risk of coronary heart disease than postmenopausal women who were not taking hormones. Of the 2,873 women who took part in the study, no premenopausal participants died as a result of coronary heart disease.
Menopause, Estrogen, and Hormone Therapy
Hormone therapy was once thought to be the definitive treatment to lower estrogen and ward off heart disease, osteoporosis, and cancer. That was until 1991, when the Women’s Health Initiative launched a trial to determine the best case scenario for helping menopausal women. Among other variables, the trial involved two hormone therapy clinical trials, both of which were cut short due to health risks to the patients.
Similar findings occurred during a 2002 study as early data showed hormone replacement therapy drastically increased a menopausal woman’s risk for heart attack, stroke, blood clots, and breast cancer.
With all research considered, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the American Heart Association state that hormone replacement therapy shouldn’t be used to prevent heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular problems. Also, hormone therapy should only be used in the short term; long-term use is discouraged because of the increased risk of stroke, heart attack, and breast cancer.
Reducing Your Risk of Heart Disease
While research suggests that there is no complete safeguard against heart disease, there are preventative steps you can take to maintain your cardiovascular health.
Some of these precautions include:
- quitting smoking
- managing your cholesterol levels
- eating a healthy diet
- maintain a healthy weight
- reduce stress
- managing other conditions, such as diabetes
- brush and floss regularly
Make sure to talk to your doctor not only about your menopause, but also about active steps you can take to ensure your heart stays healthy.