Women and Heart Disease

The risk of heart disease in women goes up with age. It’s the leading cause of death in women over age 40, especially after menopause.

Each year, more than 400,000 U.S. women die of heart disease. This translates to approximately one death every minute.

Why Is Heart Disease Associated With Menopause?

Menopause is a normal stage in a woman's life. It’s the changes a woman feels either before or after she stops having her period. It usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55.

The ovaries gradually make less estrogen, a female hormone. This causes changes in the menstrual cycle. It also brings other physical changes like:

Women can also lose estrogen if the ovaries are removed during surgery (such as during a total hysterectomy), by taking certain medications, or if a woman goes through early menopause.

The loss of natural estrogen as women get older may play a part in the higher risks of heart disease seen after menopause. Other things that may lead to risks of heart disease then include:

Changes in the walls of the blood vessels, making it more likely for plaque and blood clots to form.

Changes in the level of fats in the blood. LDL, or "bad" cholesterol, goes up and HDL, or "good" cholesterol, goes down.

Increases in fibrinogen levels. That’s a substance in the blood that helps the blood clot. An increase makes it more likely for blood clots to form. A clot in the heart can cause a heart attack, and one in the brain can cause a stroke.

How Can Women Reduce Their Risk?

Women with the lowest risk of heart disease are those who:

Can Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) Reduce the Risk?

Scientists are still learning about how HRT affects your chances of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends that women don't take HRT to try to prevent heart disease.

If you have concerns, talk to your doctor about them.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on May 06, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Texas Heart Institute: "Women and Heart Disease."

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women."

American College of Cardiology: "Women and Heart Disease."

American Heart Association Go Red for Women: "Menopause Hormone Treatment, Heart Risk."

Cleveland Clinic: "Estrogen and Hormones: Estrogen and Heart Disease."

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