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Menopause and the Heart

Menopause is about more than hot flashes and mood swings. Studies show that a woman's risk of  heart disease increases dramatically around the time of menopause. The reasons include hormonal changes as well as the aging process.

Hormonal Changes

Estrogen Levels Drop

As you hit menopause, usually around age 50, estrogen levels drop significantly. Estrogen is believed to protect your heart.

Weight Gain

In addition, weight gain is also a factor in increasing the risk of heart disease after menopause. Maintaining a healthy weight can become challenging after your body goes through the hormonal changes associated with menopause. Extra weight is often associated with high blood pressurediabetes and high cholesterol, all of which are known to significantly increase your risk of suffering a  heart attack and/or stroke.

Changes in Cholesterol Levels

Studies also show that menopause causes changes in the levels of cholesterol in your blood. LDL or "bad" cholesterol particles increase while HDL, or "good" cholesterol, decreases. This is believed to be due to a direct result of estrogen deficiency.

Risk Rises After 50

Disease Rates Soar

All of these factors result in heart disease rates soaring among women over the age of 50. In fact, heart disease is the number one killer of American women and is responsible for half of all deaths of women over 50.

One in Three

Prior to entering menopause, a woman's risk of heart attack is three times less than in men. By the time a woman reaches age 65, the risk of heart attack equals that of men. At this point, one in three women will also develop some form of cardiovascular disease.

Women at Risk

"Unfortunately, many women do not think of themselves at risk of developing heart disease, " said Dr. Loryn Feinberg, director of the  Women's Cardiovascular Program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Mortality Rate is Higher

Impact of Age and Other Problems

"While cardiovascular diseases are more prevalent in younger men compared to younger women, by age 65, the prevalence of cardiovascular disease begins to be higher in women," she said. "The mortality rate of women with cardiovascular disease is also higher than that of men, which appears to be related to a combination of women's other medical problems and the older age at which the cardiovascular problems appear."

The fact that many women don't believe they are at risk for heart disease can be dangerous as it may result in delays in getting treatment, she noted.

Contact Information

Women's Cardiovascular Health Program
CardioVascular Institute
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215