The hormone changes that occur during the menopause transition can significantly affect your heart health. Many women experience increases in cholesterol levels, and changes in body composition, mental health, and other factors related to heart disease. Here are some steps you can take to reduce your risks of heart disease and protect your health.*
Menopause and your heart
According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one killer of women. The risk of developing heart disease increases for both men and women in later life, but the hormone changes that occur during menopause have specific effects on your heart. Here are five ways menopause affects your heart health.
Changes in cholesterol
Starting in perimenopause, your levels of total cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol, called LDLs, can increase. At the same time, your level of “good” cholesterol, called HDLs, typically goes down. HDLs help remove excess cholesterol from your blood. If there is too much cholesterol in your blood, plaque can form in your arteries and potentially lead to a heart attack or stroke.
More belly fat
Loss of estrogen can cause fat to shift to your midsection. Belly fat is generally a combination of subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. Evidence shows that having excess visceral fat—the fat around your organs and midsection—especially if your waist circumference is more than 35 inches, can put you at a higher risk of developing heart disease, even if your bodyweight is within a moderate range.
Metabolic syndrome is a combination of health conditions that include elevated cholesterol, blood sugar, and belly fat. Women are at a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome during perimenopause, the period of time before menstruation fully stops. If left untreated, metabolic syndrome can increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Changes in mental health
Evidence suggests women in the menopause transition experience more depressive symptoms than women in pre-menopause. Your mental health impacts many aspects of your overall health, including your heart health.
When stress or anxiety is high, your heart rate and blood pressure can increase. Your cortisol and other stress hormone levels also go up, which can increase your risk of heart disease. Speak with your doctor or a mental health expert if you’re constantly feeling sad, hopeless, or overwhelmed. There are many available options that may be able to help.
Sleep difficulties are a very common symptom of menopause. Unfortunately, chronic sleep problems can increase your risk of heart disease over time. As you sleep, your blood pressure naturally goes down. If this period of rest is constantly interrupted, your blood pressure could stay high for longer than normal, which can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Discuss any sleeping trouble with your doctor, especially if you’re noticing an increase in blood pressure.
How to promote heart health
Taking care of your heart is extremely important, especially during menopause. To promote heart health:
- Get regular check-ups from your doctor.
- Try to exercise about 150 minutes (2.5 hours) per week.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
- Don’t smoke.
- Monitor your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.
- Speak with your doctor about the benefits and risks of hormone therapy.
*Gordon, S. & Sahu, A.. (2022, August 30). 5 Signs Your Heart Is Changing During Menopause. EverydayHealth. Retrieved September 9, 2022, from https://www.everydayhealth.com/heart-health/signs-your-heart-is-changing-during-menopause/