Heart Disease Risk
Menopausal and postmenopausal women have a higher risk of developing a heart condition than women who are still having regular monthly periods. This is because levels of oestrogen, the sex hormone that powers the menstrual cycle, are extremely low in women who have stopped menstruating. Oestrogen has protective qualities which maintain heart health. Another reason why postmenopausal women experience more heart problems is the simple process of aging – the heart muscle gets older and works less well than before.
The 50th year is the average age for natural menopause in women. At this age, a woman’s risk of suffering from heart disease increases significantly. In fact, 50% of all deaths in women aged 50 and over are due to heart problems.
Postmenopausal women who suffer from certain other health problems have an even higher than average risk of heart disease. For example, a postmenopausal woman with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or a family history of heart disease is particularly at risk.
Lifestyle factors also play a role. Women in this age group are who are smokers and/or are obese, are also more likely to develop heart problems.
All this seems very scary, but there is a lot you can do to prevent heart disease affecting you in your postmenopausal years. This is a time when you should be exploring new things and enjoying yourself, so a little bit of effort invested in maintaining your health will prove very worthwhile in the end.
Quit smoking – if you haven’t already quit this very dangerous habit, now is the time to act. Smoking on its own is a major cause of heart disease, never mind in combination with diminished oestrogen levels after menopause. Advice about quitting smoking, and support, are available from your GP.
Lose weight – if you are overweight, you need to lose those extra pounds. The heavier you are, the harder your heart has to work in order to pump blood around your body. This is a muscle that you want to work for you for 80 or so years non-stop, don’t make life harder for it than it needs to be! You should talk to your doctor about a suitable diet and exercise programme.
Exercise – Don’t launch into an aggressive sports regime if you haven’t exercised in years, take it slowly. Exercise improves your heart’s ability to pump blood. It also reduces high blood pressure, high cholesterol and stress (another heart attack-inducing factor).
Eat well – a balanced diet with less saturated fats and sugar is what’s in order. You need your animal proteins (or substitutes if you are vegetarian), carbohydrates and vegetables – all in sensible amounts. Dairy products are also important for calcium (this mineral may help to prevent bone-weakening after menopause). Talk to your GP about what you should be eating, and portion size.
An aspirin a day – for some women, taking an aspirin a day can help to prevent blood clotting and ward off heart disease. This is not a suitable prevention method for everyone, however, especially not if you are already taking blood-thinning medications. Ask your GP for advice before taking daily aspirin.