Beyond Hot Flashes: How Menopause Impacts Women’s Heart Health

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Women entering their late 40s and early 50s may be unaware that their risk for cardiovascular disease is increasing, despite the hallmark symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and night sweats.

According to Samar El Khoudary, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Public Health, as women transition through menopause, they experience changes, including less estrogen production and accumulating more belly fat.

Excess abdominal fat is part of metabolic syndrome, which is when a person has at least three of the following: abdominal obesity, high triglycerides, low “good” HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, or high blood sugar.

Furthermore, their arteries become more vulnerable to disease, getting thicker and stiffer.

All of these changes accelerate during menopause. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S., who typically develop the condition several years later than men.

However, women are largely unaware of their risk for heart disease, which is more likely to kill them than all forms of cancer combined.

In addition, according to the most recent American Heart Association survey, awareness that heart disease is the leading cause of death among women actually fell between 2009 and 2019, particularly among Black, Hispanic and younger women, for whom primary prevention may be most effective.

Women would benefit from intensifying cardiovascular prevention efforts in the years leading up to menopause.

This stage of life is a window of opportunity for making lifestyle changes.

Research suggests the most effective ways to prevent heart disease include not smoking, being physically active, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, getting enough sleep, and keeping cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels under control.

Increasing physical activity is perhaps the most effective way to prevent heart disease.

However, not enough people meet federal guidelines for physical activity, which are at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic exercise, or a combination of both.

Source: American Heart Association.

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