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Menopause and Heart Disease: What are the Risks?

Relationship Between Menopause and Heart Disease

"Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women," Wellons said. "More women die from heart disease and stroke than any other medical problems, and all women who live long enough will experience menopause. Early menopause - which we defined at an age younger than 46 - may be a marker of an increased risk of heart disease,” states Melissa Wellons, M.D., a fellow in the University of Alabama Birmingham Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism.

Wellons  was the lead author in a study presented to The Endocrine Society at their annual meeting in San Diego.  Research has revealed that women who experience early menopause, regardless of race, are twice as likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease as women who experience menopause in later years.

The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), an observational research study funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, was initiated in July 2000 to investigate the prevalence and progression of subclinical cardiovascular disease in a sample of 6,500 men and women ages 45-84 years from six communities in the US. From the MESA study, 2509 women were analysed and 693 reported early menopause, whether from natural or surgical means.

"We found that among all ethnicities, women who had an early menopause were two times more likely to have a cardiovascular disease event - a heart attack, resuscitated cardiac arrest, definite angina, probable angina (if followed by revascularization), stroke, stroke death, coronary heart disease death or other atherosclerotic/CVD death - than the women who had experienced menopause after age 46," Wellons said.

“Because this is an observational study, we cannot conclude that early menopause somehow causes future cardiovascular disease. However, these findings do support the use of ‘age at menopause’ as a marker of future heart and vascular disease risk, said Wellons, adding that clinicians should consider incorporating questions on menopause when collecting a patient's medical history.”

How Can Menopausal Women Reduce Their Risk of Heart Disease?

According to WebMD, a healthy lifestyle goes a long way in preventing heart disease in women. Incorporating the following tips into your everyday life may help you reduce your risk of heart disease during and after menopause:

*Avoid or quit smoking. Smokers have twice the risk of heart attack than nonsmokers. In addition to eliminating cigarettes, stay away from other peoples' smoke. Secondhand smoke also increases the risk of heart disease.

*Maintain a healthy body weight. The more you weigh, the harder your heart has to work to give your body nutrients. Research has shown that being overweight contributes to the onset of heart disease.

*Exercise for at least three to five times per week. The heart is like any other muscle in that it needs to be worked to keep it strong and healthy. Being active or exercising regularly (ideally, at least 30 minutes every day) helps improve how well the heart pumps blood through your body. Activity and exercise also help reduce many other risk factors. It helps lower high blood pressure and cholesterol, reduces stress, helps keep weight off, and improves blood sugar levels.

*Eat well. Follow a diet low in saturated fat; low in trans fat (partially hydrogenated fats); and high in fiber, whole grains, legumes (such as beans and peas), fruits, vegetables, fish, folate-rich foods, and soy.

*Treat and control medical conditions. Diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure are known risk factors for heart disease.

*Take an aspirin every day, if approved by your doctor. Check with your doctor first; he or she will recommend the dose, if any, that is most appropriate for you.

Can Hormone Replacement Therapy Reduce My Risk of Heart Disease?

WebMD also reports that for many years, preliminary research showed that estrogen, through hormone replacement therapy (HRT), could possibly reduce the risk of heart disease in women. Other, more recent studies of women with existing heart disease have not shown a benefit after taking estrogen. In addition, the Women's Health Initiative (WHI), a 15-year government-funded study of postmenopausal women taking HRT, confirmed a modest increase in the risk of heart disease in the women taking combination HRT (estrogen and progesterone). This increased risk was not shown in the women taking estrogen alone. As a result, it is no longer recommended that estrogen or combination HRT be used to prevent heart disease.

Laura King