4 Changes That Put Women's Hearts At Risk During Menopause

Patient Expert

My life turned upside down due to caregiving for my mother in 2005. I was so focused on her issues (along with graduate school and working in order to pay bills) that I didn't realize that I had entered perimenopause. (I also didn't experience some of the signs, such as hot flashes and night sweats, so my transition really was under the radar for several reasons.)

Imagine my surprise when a couple months after my mother's death in 2007, I started feeling my heart acting funny. I visited with my doctor about it. "You've got a heart arrhythmia," he said. He took into account all of the stress I had been under and agreed to let me try lifestyle changes to deal with it. So I started walking every day, eating more healthily, dropping my consumption of caffeine, taking CoQ10 capsules, and lowering my stress levels. That routine worked and I went on my merry way.

The lesson to garner from my experience is that going through the menopausal transition - including perimenopause that often starts in a woman's 40s or even 30s -- means that every women needs to be increasingly focused on maintaining her heart health. In fact, the American Heart Association cautions that women are at an increased risk of having a heart attack after they have their last menstrual period. It's believed that this change in our risk levels is caused by the following 4 changes during menopause transition:

  • Decreased estrogen levels - which help keep arteries flexible and strengthen their interior walls.* ** Increased blood pressure levels.*** ** Changing cholesterol levels (higher bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol).*** ** Increasing level of triglycerides (the groups of fatty cells that are contained within blood vessels).**

So that's why I always encourage women who are going through the menopausal transition to really evaluate their lifestyle since there are so many changes in our bodies that are happening, often silently. We also often take the way our body functions for granted as we age. For instance, I just saw a Facebook post by best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert, who recounted a conversation with an exercise physiologist. The gist of the conversation went like this -- while flexibility, slimness and good muscle density are nice, cardiovascular health is the only thing proven to extend your life. Gilbert suggested the following for her readers to ponder: "'Am I in the best cardiovascular condition that I can be in?' If the answer is no, now you have a mission: Get yourself there. Get your heart as strong as it can be."

So what does that entail? The American Heart Association recommends eating a healthy diet that includes whole foods (at least 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables as well as 6-8 servings of whole grains per day) and exercising at least 150 minutes weekly. So what does that exercise look like?   Gilbert shared this video, which sends a powerful message:

So excuse me now, but I'm off to ride my exercise bicycle while listening some good old heart-pounding 80's rock for a bit I hope you'll join me in celebrating February as Happy Heart Month!

Other Shareposts That Might Be of Interest:

["Middle-Age Women at Risk for Broken Heart Syndrome"](http://www.healthcentral.com/menopause/c/727598/143393/women-syndrome/ "Middle Age Women At Risk for "Broken Heart Syndrome"")

Work Stress Increases Middle-Age Women's Risk of Heart Disease

Focus on Protecting Your Heart During, After Menopause - See more at: http://www.healthcentral.com/menopause/c/727598/164897/protecting-menopause/#sthash.LXk2bkDK.dpuf

Focus on Protecting Your Heart During, After Menopause

Focus on Protecting Your Heart During, After Menopause - See more at: http://www.healthcentral.com/menopause/c/727598/164897/protecting-menopause/#sthash.LXk2bkDK.dpuf

Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

American Heart Association. (ND). Menopause and heart disease. Go Red for Women.

Mayo Clinic. (2013). Perimenopause.