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:
Not all women experience symptoms prior to or following menopause, which is defined as the time when a woman has naturally ceased having menstrual periods for one year. If menopausal symptoms occur, they may include hot flashes, night sweats, pain during intercourse due to vaginal dryness, and increased anxiety or irritability.
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.