The risk of heart disease and heart attack go up in direct proportion to the loss of estrogen a woman experiences during menopause. As a matter of fact, heart disease is one of the leading causes of death for post-menopausal women. After the age of 55, heart-related problems increase a lot for females. It’s no coincidence that this happens to be the age most women are in the middle of their menopausal transition. There are, of course, other factors that can contribute to this increase in heart disease, and when coupled with the loss of estrogen, the combination can be deadly.
For many years, people believed that men were much more at risk for heart problems than women. Scientific studies tended to focus on male experiences with heart health and then extrapolate that data to apply to women. In recent years, science is discovering that women are at an equal risk for heart disease as men are, but that a woman’s experience with heart disease looks different than a mans does. For example, the classic signs of a heart attack that many people think of, such as pain in the arm, jaw, and chest, are signs that are more likely to appear in a male patient. A woman may experience these things, but she is also more apt to suffer a heart attack in a more “subtle” or “silent” way. Women are more prone to experiencing stomach pain, heartburn, nausea, lightheadedness, sweating and fatigue during heart attacks. These signs are all easily confused with other things, and many women are not taught to associate them with potential heart disease.
Other factors come into play which can contribute to heart disease. The reasons behind all of these risk factors may not be entirely understood, but we are aware that there is a correlation between these things and heart disease:
* Being more than 30% overweight
* Uncontrolled high blood pressure
* Diabetes (both type 1 and type 2)
* Smoking cigarettes
* Being physically sedentary
* High cholesterol
* Having a relative who had a heart attack before age 60
* Early menopause (Before age 40)
* Undue stress
* Consuming more than three alcoholic beverages per day
* Being African American
All of the above can increase the risk of heart disease for women, and when you add in decreased levels of estrogen associated with menopause, the risk gets much higher. You can’t avoid menopause, but you can eliminate as many of the other factors as possible, and you can work with your doctor to find the best possible treatments for you.