Many women think that heart disease is a man's disease. It isn't. Heart disease is the number one killer of women. In fact, after age 50, nearly half of all deaths in women are due to some form of cardiovascular disease.
Once a woman reaches the age of 50, about the age of natural menopause, her risk for heart disease increases dramatically. In young women who have undergone early or surgical menopause, who do not take estrogen, their risk for heart disease is also higher. Women who have gone through menopause and also have other heart disease risk factors, such as the following, are at even greater risk:
Menopausal women who have more than one specific risk factor for coronary heart disease (CHD), like high cholesterol, may be at much greater risk for heart disease than people with no risk factors. Take this quick quiz to assess your risk.
Answer yes or no to the following questions.
High LDL (low density lipoproteins) or "bad" cholesterol
Low HDL (high density lipoproteins) or "good" cholesterol
Family history of heart disease
How Is Heart Disease Linked to Menopause?
Heart disease becomes more of a risk for women after menopause.
How Can Menopausal Women Reduce Their Risk of Heart Disease?
A healthy lifestyle goes a long way in preventing heart disease in women. Incorporating the following tips into your everyday life may help you reduce your risk of heart disease during and after menopause:
Avoid or quit smoking. Smokers have twice (or higher) the risk of heart attack than nonsmokers. In addition to eliminating cigarettes, stay away from secondhand smoke, as it also increases the risk of heart disease.
Maintain a healthy body weight. The more you are over your ideal weight, the harder your heart has to work to give your body nutrients. Research has shown that being overweight contributes to the onset of heart disease.
Exercise throughout the week. The heart is like any other muscle -- it needs to be worked to keep it strong and healthy. Being active or exercising regularly (ideally, at least 150 minutes total each week) helps improve how well the heart pumps blood through your body. Activity and exercise also help reduce many other risk factors. It helps lower high blood pressure and cholesterol, reduces stress, helps keep weight off, and improves blood sugar levels. Check with your doctor if you have been inactive before increasing your activity level.
Eat well. Follow a diet low in saturated fat; low in trans fat (partially hydrogenated fats); and high in fiber, whole grains, legumes (such as beans and peas), fruits, vegetables, fish, folate-rich foods, and soy.
Treat and control medical conditions. Diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure are known risk factors for heart disease.
Can Hormone Replacement Therapy Reduce My Risk of Heart Disease?
For many years, preliminary research showed that estrogen, through hormone replacement therapy (HRT), could possibly reduce the risk of heart disease in women. Other, more recent studies have contradicted the research.
Using data from this Women’s Health Initiative, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) in May of 2012 recommended against using hormone replacement therapy to prevent chronic diseases, including osteoporosis, dementia or heart disease. They weighed any benefits that the hormones may have with their risk of increased heart disease, increased gallbladder disease, slightly increased risk of dementia, and increased breast cancer.
If you are taking estrogen or combination HRT to reduce your risk of heart disease, talk to your doctor. He or she may recommend other methods of prevention, such as lifestyle changes, and cholesterol- and blood pressure-lowering drugs.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, May 2012. Women's Health Initiative. WebMD Medical Reference: "Is Hormone Therapy Helpful After All." Journal of Women's Health, January/February 2006.