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What Does Menopause Do to Your Heart?

When you think of heart disease, you may think of someone who isn't leading a healthy lifestyle or perhaps you think of your own genetics. The number one cause of death in American women is heart disease, which accounts for over half of all deaths in women in the United States exceeding 50 years old.

HFN 075 MenoDotoHeart 1 F24335503Cholesterol and Estrogen
There are two types of cholesterol found within the body: high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL), and low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL). HDL cholesterol is good and has a cleansing effect in the bloodstream while LDL cholesterol is bad and causes plaque (fat) to build up on the walls of arteries, eventually clogging them. Estrogen helps keep LDL cholesterol in check, which in turn lowers a women's cardiovascular risk. Thus, estrogen is thought to be "cardioprotective."

When a woman enters menopause, her estrogen level begins to drop, which tends to increase the chance of cardiovascular problems. In a recent study led by University of Pittsburgh professor of psychiatry and epidemiology, Karen Matthews, PhD, it was discovered that on average, a postmenopausal woman's LDL cholesterol will increase by about 9 percent. With this increase of cholesterol comes a higher risk of heart issues, such as hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke, angina, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

In one large study of postmenopausal women in the Netherlands, researchers found that earlier age of menopause onset caused higher cardiovascular risk, but as women aged, the risk decreased. It was suggested that longer exposure to natural estrogen with later onset of menopause is cardioprotective.

Fighting the Age Risk
While it is true that your LDL cholesterol will likely rise during menopause, it doesn't necessarily mean that it is cause for serious alarm. Whether or not you are worried about your cholesterol, one of the first steps of prevention is to make sure you're living a healthy lifestyle. This means not smoking, exercising for at least 30 minutes most days of the week, and reducing your intake of red meat, trans fats, sodium, and refined sugar. There are also prescription medicines available, such as Lipitor, that are designed to lower your cholesterol. A consult with your doctor will tell you if these medications are appropriate for you.

Among the medical complications that can occur at menopause are metabolic changes, especially those that come with significant weight gain. Most women will see some upward change in their waistlines and hips with menopause, but putting on a lot of weight carries a very real danger. Obesity leaves you vulnerable to high cholesterol, diabetes, and hypertension, any of which, if uncontrolled, can cause serious damage to your health.

Visit Your Doctor
HFN 075 MenoDotoHeart 2 F19259068There are many at-home cholesterol test kits available, but it's best to visit your doctor to have an accurate test of your cholesterol levels and get his or her professional advice regarding your risks. There may be a good chance you aren't at risk, but if you are, your doctor can tell you about some ways to prevent high cholesterol levels and to help you manage them. Lastly, many physicians believe that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a viable solution for menopausal women who are at high cardiovascular risk. Be aware that HRT carries its own set of risks and should be considered carefully before proceeding. For more information on HRT, visit our section on Clinical Treatments and Therapies.

Whether you're considering addressing your cholesterol levels through the use of clinical treatments or natural processes, a chat with your doctor is in order. Only he or she can evaluate your body and its needs and prescribe the best plan of action for your specific situation. ♀

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