Just like a menstrual cycle, menopause is associated with several annoying symptoms like hot flashes, irritability, and mood shifts. However, menopause carries more significant risks, specifically related to your heart. Learn how menopause affects the heart and vice versa.
Menopause is characterized by several changes, hence the idiom “the change.” It is important to remember that menopause is a natural phase of a woman’s life, not a disease or disorder, and should be thought of and treated as such. It happens as the ovaries age and produce lower levels of estrogen. Menopause is usually marked by 12 consecutive months of missed periods, most often preceded by irregular cycles and occasional missed periods. On average, menopause happens between ages 45 and 55.
Before and during menopause, there are physical changes that occur like hot flashes, loss of sleep, weight gain, hair thinning, and vaginal dryness. Other changes are common as well like moodiness, headaches, and memory loss. Some of these issues resolve on their own in time or with hormone treatment.
Menopause Can Lead to Heart Attack
One health risk of menopause is heart disease due to vascular aging. A study in Menopause found that vascular dysfunction and stiffening of the arteries were associated with more severe symptoms of menopause. The study showed a specific link between hot flashes and cardiovascular risk—the more frequent the hot flashes, the greater the amount of vascular stiffening, which can lower blood pressure and cause damage to the heart.
Menopause can also cause weight gain, which can increase the likelihood of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and high cholesterol, all of which contribute to heart failure. Aging on its own is a risk factor for heart disease, so it makes sense that in menopause, the risk of cardiovascular issues increase and that those risks are compounded by other health problems. For these reasons, it is important to monitor symptoms during menopause, including regular checkups and necessary screenings.
Heart Attack Can Lead to Menopause
Just as menopause can lead to heart disease, a cardiovascular event like heart attack or stroke can lead to early menopause. Going into menopause before the age of 45 qualifies as early menopause. A study presented at American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference showed that women who have experienced a heart attack, angina, or stroke were twice as likely to have early menopause. This is especially concerning because early menopause also increases a woman’s risk for other serious diseases like osteoporosis and diabetes and also increases her risk of death.
Again, menopause is a normal part of a woman’s aging process and requires no treatment per se. Rather, menopausal treatment is used to relieve symptoms and to treat or prevent complications resulting from menopause, like heart disease. These treatment methods can include hormone therapy where lost estrogen is replaced in small doses toward the beginning of menopause. This can effectively reduce symptoms until the body has a chance to regulate to the change in estrogen level.
Low-dose antidepressants are sometimes prescribed to help with mood changes and hot flashes. Other medications may be suggested if you show signs of high blood pressure, osteoporosis, or vaginal dryness. No matter your age or health, you can help reduce the effects of menopause through healthy diet and regular exercise. If you are wondering about your risk of heart disease and/or you are experiencing signs of menopause, The Woman’s Clinic is here to help you navigate “the change.” Make an appointment with us online. We look forward to giving you the best care in this new stage of life!