Menopause affects most women as they get older and it can wreak havoc on their daily lives, including their work life. Not only can it cause a myriad of irritating (and sometimes debilitating) symptoms, but it can also impact your heart health.
Keeping your heart healthy is especially important as you age and understanding the changes menopause causes can be a good way to stay on top of your cardiovascular health.
In our latest blog post, we look at the risks and challenges menopause can bring and how you can manage your heart health during this next phase of your life.
Menopause is a bodily change most women will go through between the ages of 45 and 55.
It is a natural change and affects anyone who has periods. As you age, your hormone levels of oestrogen and progesterone will decrease, eventually leading to a cessation (stopping) of your periods.
However, it can occur in people younger than this; this is called early menopause. Early menopause can be caused by a few things, such as having a hysterectomy (removal of your uterus) or cancer treatment. Other times, there can be no known cause of early menopause.
The hormonal changes that occur during menopause cause lots of different symptoms and some women experience them more severely than others.
Common menopause symptoms include:
- Changes to your periods — they can become heavier or irregular before they stop altogether
- Low mood or depression
- Hot flushes
- Heart palpitations
- Night sweats
- Muscle aches
- Joint pain
- Decreased libido
- Vaginal dryness
- Recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Headaches or migraines
These symptoms can have a big impact on your daily life. However, treatments like hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can help manage your symptoms effectively by boosting your oestrogen and progesterone levels.
Menopause and cardiovascular health
You might already be experiencing menopause symptoms for yourself. These symptoms can be tough to deal with. But did you know that menopause can have an impact on the overall health of your heart?
While it may not be commonly known, oestrogen plays an important, protective role in heart health.
Oestrogen manages your cholesterol levels and prevents fat from building up inside your arteries. This keeps your blood vessels healthy and your heart functioning as it should be. Oestrogen also promotes healthy blood flow in your body by keeping your blood vessels open.
However, as your oestrogen levels fall during menopause, fat can start to build up in your arteries and narrow them. This increases your risk of coronary heart disease, heart attacks and stroke.
What changes can menopause cause to my cardiovascular health?
Menopause can also lead to other changes within your body that can negatively affect your cardiovascular health.
These changes can include:
- Weight gain – although menopause does not directly cause weight gain, many women find that their body changes during this phase of their life. Being overweight increases the strain on your heart and puts you at a higher risk for cardiovascular problems, such as blocked arteries and heart failure.
- Higher cholesterol – many women find their cholesterol levels increase after menopause and this exacerbates their risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Poor blood glucose (blood sugar) control – during menopause, your body finds it harder to control your glucose levels which puts you at a higher risk of diabetes. This then increases your risk of high blood pressure and further heart complications.
- Hypertension (high blood pressure) – your blood pressure can increase during menopause which puts strain on your heart.
Although menopause can affect your heart health, it’s important to remember there are things you can do to maintain your health. Lifestyle changes, medication and regular check-ups are all fantastic ways to keep your cardiovascular health in check during menopause.
Risks and challenges
Cardiac risks are something you need to be aware of and take seriously. Early detection and prevention of heart complications can save your life.
If you go through early menopause, your risk of coronary heart disease is higher because you will have less oestrogen in your body for a longer period. Going through menopause at the average age can also increase your risk of heart conditions.
Some of the problems menopausal women face that affect their risk of heart problems include:
- Metabolic syndrome – this is where you have high cholesterol, excess belly fat and high blood glucose at the same time, putting you at a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Disrupted sleep – Disrupted sleep is a common problem when going through menopause as symptoms like night sweats interrupt your sleep or make it hard for you to sleep in the first place. Chronically disrupted sleep increases your risk for heart disease as your body struggles to manage your blood pressure.
- Depression, anxiety or elevated stress levels – your emotional health can take a toll on your heart too. Stress and anxiety increase your blood pressure and your cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Women who experience depression during menopause are thought to have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
One study found that the risk of a heart attack is five times higher after menopause and the main reason is believed to be hypertension.
While this increased risk can seem worrying, there are ways you can protect your heart and maintain a healthy cardiovascular system after menopause. It can be a challenge and you may need to reach out for support for safeguarding your heart as you age.
Managing heart health during menopause
Although menopause can impact your heart health, there are lots of things you can do to effectively manage it. Lifestyle changes can play a big role in keeping your heart healthy during menopause.
Diet and exercise
Eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet is crucial as it helps to keep your body functioning properly. You want to reduce the amount of stress you put on your heart, so keeping your cholesterol levels low by eating a healthy diet is essential.
Getting enough exercise is important at all ages, but it’s especially important when you go through menopause. Regular exercise not only strengthens your heart but also helps you maintain a healthy weight which reduces your risk of cardiovascular diseases.
A very important change you can make to protect your heart is giving up smoking. Smoking can also make your hot flushes and heart palpitations worse, as well as increase your risk of blood clots that lead to heart attacks.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
HRT is a medical intervention you can try that helps to increase your hormone levels during menopause. HRT contains oestrogen and progesterone, both of which naturally deplete as you age.
Some forms of HRT are oestrogen-only and are recommended for women who no longer have a uterus. Progesterone is recommended when you still have your uterus as it can help to reduce your risk of uterine cancers.
Taking HRT to increase your oestrogen levels can protect your heart and keep your arteries healthy.
HRT’s main purpose is to reduce and alleviate menopause symptoms. If you’re interested in starting HRT to protect your heart health and find relief from menopause symptoms, speak with your doctor.
As we’ve discussed above, your emotional health plays a big role in maintaining your heart health. This is why looking after your holistic wellbeing is just as important. Taking the steps towards caring for your mental health is vital.
Many women experience depression and/or anxiety during menopause and these can have a big impact on your heart. Try reaching out to your loved ones for support or finding social groups that can provide you with the added support you need during this time.
Managing your stress is essential for your heart too. Focus on reducing your stress triggers and finding repeatable, effective ways to manage your stress when it arises, so you can keep your heart healthy.
Hobbies to boost your mood
Taking up hobbies that you enjoy and calm your mind can help. Some stress-busting hobbies include:
- Practising mindfulness
- Knitting or crochet
There are all sorts of activities you can do to help keep your stress levels low and your mindset positive. You may even find a community within these hobbies that further boosts your mood and wellbeing.
Book a consultation at The McIndoe Centre
Taking care of your heart is an important part of menopause and it’s not always easy to do it on your own.
When you access our menopause management services, you’ll receive:
- A consultation with a GP
- If necessary, hormonal testing
- Personalised HRT prescription
- Lifestyle and complementary therapies advice
- Follow-up appointments
- Prescription reviews
You may not be able to avoid menopause but you can actively work to reduce the impact it has on your cardiovascular health.
Book a consultation with The McIndoe Centre today and discover how we can support your heart health during menopause and beyond.
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