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Heart Disease Prevention in Postmenopausal Women

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For various reasons, women in their postmenopausal phase are more susceptible to cardiovascular diseases. Read the article to know more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Yash Kathuria

Published At February 10, 2023
Reviewed AtJuly 20, 2023

What Is Menopause?

Menopause is not an illness or a medical condition but a natural part of a woman’s life and refers to the end of the menstrual cycle in women. Clinically, the absence of menstrual cycles for 12 months is diagnosed as menopause, and the phase which occurs subsequently is known as the postmenopausal phase. Simply put, it is a phase in which women do not get any periods, and their ovaries lose their reproductive function.

Menopause occurs due to a decline in the production of follicles by ovaries. This transition usually begins in the fourth or fifth decade of their lives and lasts as long as 14 years. However, specific individuals can experience menopause much earlier in life. This can happen because of chemotherapeutic drugs (drugs used in cancer treatment), genetic causes, or surgical procedures like oophorectomy (a surgical procedure to remove ovaries) and hysterectomy (a surgical procedure done to remove the uterus).

Menopause, or the depletion of the follicles, leads to a significant decrease in the levels of estrogen and progesterone. They are hormones that play a vital role in maintaining women’s health.

What Are the Functions of Estrogen and Progesterone?

The hormones estrogen and progesterone (also known as female sex hormones) are steroid hormones. They have local effects (affecting the nearby organs) and systemic effects (involving the entire body). Starting at puberty, estrogen and progesterone are responsible for the maturation of the female reproductive organs. Estrogen also plays a vital role in developing secondary sex characteristics- the development of breasts, widening of hips, and distribution of fat at thighs and hips.

On a systemic level, estrogen protects the blood vessels and makes them flexible, helping them accommodate blood flow, which covers the cardiac system. It also helps regulate cholesterol in the body. Additionally, both hormones, estrogen, and progesterone, strengthen the bone by increasing bone density.

What Are the Symptoms of Menopause?

Although the signs and symptoms can vary from one individual to another, the following symptoms are found in most women:

  • Hot flashes.

  • Irregular periods.

  • Weight fluctuations.

  • Mood swings.

  • Tenderness in the breasts.

  • Heavier or lighter periods.

  • Increased growth of facial hair.

  • Sleep disturbances.

  • Night sweats.

  • Joint pains.

  • Rapid or irregular heartbeats.

  • Headaches.

  • Muscle aches.

  • Hair fall.

  • Urinary incontinence.

  • Vaginal dryness.

  • Decrease in sex drive.

  • Dry skin.

What Are the Symptoms of Post-menopause?

The majority of postmenopausal women experience residual menopausal symptoms. The symptoms are not as severe. In certain instances, they almost vanish. If the symptoms increase and affect the quality of life, one should contact their physician to rule out any underlying conditions or complications.

Why Should Postmenopausal Women Be Extra Cautious About Their Health?

Once the body stops producing estrogen and progesterone, women are more vulnerable to developing cardiovascular diseases as the cardio-protective functions are lost. The following changes occur when estrogen and progesterone are deficient:

  • Hypertension (increased blood pressure).

  • Increased bad cholesterol levels (LDL or low-density lipoprotein).

  • Decreased levels of good cholesterol (HDL or high-density lipoprotein).

  • Increased body weight (leads to obesity if not controlled).

  • Stiffening of the blood vessels.

Apart from being susceptible to developing cardiovascular diseases, postmenopausal women are also vulnerable to osteoporosis (a medical condition characterized by weak and brittle bones), vaginal atrophy (also known as atrophic vaginitis, a medical condition in which the lining of the vagina gets dry and thin), anxiety, and depression.

What Are the Risk Factors for Heart Disease in Postmenopausal Women?

  • Hypercholesterolemia (increased cholesterol levels).

  • Diabetes (increased sugar levels in the blood).

  • Family history of premature heart disease.

  • Obesity (increased amount of body fat).

  • Tobacco and alcohol abuse.

What Are the Symptoms of Hospitalization?

One should rush to the hospital if they have any of the following symptoms:

  • Uneasy sensation in the chest with pain radiating to arms, neck, and jaws.

  • Sudden sharp shooting pain in the back, between the shoulder blades.

  • Dyspnea or breathlessness, especially at rest.

  • Light-headedness.

  • Unusual or unexplained tiredness, even at rest.

  • Breaking out in a cold sweat.

It is important to understand that symptoms of a heart attack can also occur in the absence of chest pain. Hence, women should be wary of the following symptoms as well:

  • Abdominal pain.

  • Nausea.

  • Back pain.

  • Vomiting.

In the event of the above-mentioned symptoms, women should rush to the hospital.

What Should Postmenopausal Women Do to Decrease the Risk of Heart Disease?

Routine Body Check-Ups:

In order to monitor heart health and overall health, it is essential to get regular body check-ups. It should include a screening of cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Blood pressure and weight fluctuations should also be monitored.

  • Increase Physical Activity: Since the body utilizes energy in different ways after menopause, it is easier for the body to accumulate more fat than usual. In order to prevent this, one should exercise regularly. One can go for regular walks, runs, jogs, or learn a new outdoor sport. Working out for at least 150 minutes per week helps improve heart health. Exercise improves muscular strength, body weight, lipid profile, and cardiorespiratory fitness. It also helps in the regulation of blood pressure.

  • Making Dietary Changes: One should have a low-salt diet and limit the consumption of saturated fats and sugars. Increasing the intake of whole grains and increased consumption of fruits and vegetables can also help improve heart and overall health. In addition, non-vegetarians should opt for lean meats (such as fish and chicken) instead of red meat (such as pork and lamb) as they have less fat.

  • Lifestyle Modifications: Blood vessels slowly become stiff with an increase in age. But this stiffness accelerates with smoking and alcohol consumption. Stiff blood vessels make an individual susceptible to heart disease. Hence avoiding such stimulants is advisable.

  • Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): It may be advisable for certain patients, but it works best when they are started as soon as the symptoms of menopause occur. One should consult a physician to understand the available options.

Conclusion

The risk of heart disease increases for every individual with age, but women are more susceptible to heart disease once they are in their postmenopausal phase. Menopause is not directly associated with heart disease, but it is a risk factor that makes women susceptible to poor heart health. This happens because the levels of hormones, namely estrogen and progesterone, decrease drastically, and significant changes occur in the body. The overall functioning of the body changes, fat cells work differently, and the body utilizes energy in different ways. It is easier for women to gain weight and has cholesterol problems, which puts their hearts at risk of developing a disease. Hence, it is crucial to identify the risk factors which may present with nontypical symptoms.

The sooner the risk factors are identified, the necessary interventions can be made, and heart diseases can be prevented in postmenopausal women.

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Dr. Yash Kathuria
Dr. Yash Kathuria

Family Physician

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heart disease
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