There’s a bit of confusion for many people about what, exactly, menopause is. Technically, it’s one single day, the day exactly one year after your last menstrual cycle. However, most people refer to the time leading up to that day as menopause, but the correct term is perimenopause.
Most women experience menopause between the ages of 48 and 55 years. Perimenopause can last as long as 10 years. Common symptoms include hot flashes, moodiness, problems sleeping, and vaginal dryness. The experience of perimenopause is unique for each individual, though, and you may not have any symptoms.
Unlike symptoms, one thing that all women share after menopause is an increased risk of developing heart disease.
The link between heart disease and menopause
Research has proven a correlation between increased risk of heart disease following menopause, but hasn’t yet revealed the reason for the link. Heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women. After age 50, about half of all women’s deaths are the result of some form of heart disease.
One theory that researchers have explored is the lower levels of estrogen after menopause. Estrogen is a hormone that is thought to help keep the inner layer of the artery walls flexible so that the arteries can accommodate blood flow. But the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which helps replace estrogen levels and relieve menopause symptoms, has not reduced heart disease.
Proactive steps you can take
Even though scientists haven’t determined the exact reason women are at a greater risk for developing heart disease after menopause, you can take steps to protect yourself. The providers at Advanced Women’s Care recommend the following actions:
Go to those regular screening appointments
There are lots of good reasons to see your doctor regularly, and protecting your heart health is one of them. According to the American Heart Association, you should get:
- A cholesterol screening every five years
- A blood pressure screening at least every two years
- Blood glucose tests every three years
- Body size measurements every year
Although these screenings are usually done during an annual physical, you may need more frequent screenings depending on your situation.
Lower your risks
Happily, many risk factors are within your control. You can make several lifestyle changes that will benefit your heart. Some lifestyle-related factors include:
- Smoking - If you smoke, talk to your doctor about resources to help you quit.
- Diabetes - It’s especially important to follow a healthy diet and control your blood sugar to avoid increasing cardiovascular risk.
- Being overweight or obese - Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight decreases the likelihood you’ll develop heart disease.
Your heart is a muscle. By exercising that muscle, you make it stronger. When you exercise most days of the week, or for at least 150 minutes per week, you improve your heart function, and it may help you lose weight or control your blood sugar.
Good nutrition is important
Does it seem like every time you talk to a health care professional or you read an article about good health you encounter the words “follow a healthy diet”? That’s because good nutrition is critically important to good health. Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats, and if you have questions, talk to our staff. We’re happy to help.
If you’d like to learn more about the link between heart disease and menopause or evaluate your own risk, book an appointment at Advanced Women’s Healthcare. Our staff is happy to talk to you about your unique situation. Simply call 309-808-3068, between 7:30 am and 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday, and we’ll get you scheduled.