Menopause and Heart Disease

Fact checked

By SheCares Editorial Team | Updated: Jul 02, 2021

Once women reach menopause, they are often told that they should keep a watchful eye for heart disease.

However, many may not understand what it means and how real is the risk of developing cardiovascular problems after menopause. A good grasp of the long-term effects of menopause on the cardiovascular system is not only important for maintaining good health, but also for prolonging women's lives.

Keeping on reading about the link between menopause and heart disease, including its prevalence, causes, ways to prevent it, and available treatment options.

Menopause and heart disease

About Menopause Heart Disease

Cardiovascular disease encompasses a variety of conditions that affect the heart or blood vessels, including coronary heart disease and stroke, among others.

Prevalence of Menopause Heart Disease

Studies have shown that cardiovascular disease is the main cause of death in postmenopausal women.1 In fact, women are four times more likely to develop heart problems about 10 years after their final periods.2

Interestingly, middle-aged women are oftentimes unaware of cardiovascular risks and point to osteoporosis or breast cancer as their main potential health threats.

What Causes Heart Disease after Menopause

What causes heart disease after menopause

Menopause by itself does not cause heart disease. However, there are several factors that appear during the transition that may put postmenopausal women at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Hormones and Menopause Heart Disease

The principal risk factor of menopausal heart problems relates to hormones.

As women enter the transition, estrogen and progesterone production in the ovaries becomes unstable. The erratic hormonal fluctuations that ensue continue during perimenopause. By the time women reach their final periods, estrogen and progesterone levels are at their lowest levels, which will continue throughout postmenopause.

During reproductive years, estrogen exerts protective effects on the cardiovascular system. With estrogen decline and other changes that happen during the transition, those protective effects are lost, and women's heart disease risks go up.

Other Risk Factors of Menopause Heart Disease

While aging itself is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease for both men and women, those risks are even higher for menopausal women due to a number of physiological changes that occur in that life stage:3,4,5,6

  • Menopausal weight gain. Excess weight is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease for all age groups. Menopausal women are more prone to weight gain, particularly around the waist, further increasing the risk of heart issues.

  • Hypertension. High blood pressure - another risk factor of cardiovascular disease - is more common in middle-aged women than in men of the same age.

  • Abnormal lipid levels. The levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and triglycerides tend to increase in menopause, while high-density lipoprotein (HDL) decreases, exposing women to a higher risk of heart problems and blood clots. 

  • Unhealthy habits. Smoking, a diet rich in saturated and trans fats, and a sedentary lifestyle are directly linked to cardiovascular disease. Many of such risks are higher in women than they are in men.

  • Diabetes. Following menopause, women may experience changes in their blood sugar levels, which - if left uncontrolled - can increase their risk of cardiovascular disease and other complications.

  • Family history. Having close relatives who suffer from heart disease may further increase women's risk of developing such problems on their own after menopause.

Women going through early menopause or premature menopause may be at an even higher risk of cardiovascular disease than those going through it at the typical age (between 45 and 55).7

How to Prevent Heart Disease After Menopause

Prevention is the central focus of postmenopause care. Implementing wholesome lifestyle changes early on is one of the best ways to prevent cardiovascular disease throughout postmenopause.

  • Regular check-ups. Monitoring lipid levels, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and weight through annual check-ups is an essential part of staying healthy and preventing heart disease during postmenopause.

  • Exercise. Opting for half an hour a day of moderate exercise, five times a week is an excellent way to decrease the risk of heart problems after menopause, including maintaining a healthy weight and controlling cholesterol.8

  • Nutrition. A nutritious and balanced menopause diet for heart disease prevention should include ample amounts of unsaturated fats, lean protein, and complex carbs as well as foods rich in phytoestrogens and phytosterols.

  • Unhealthy habits. Quitting smoking offers far-reaching benefits for menopausal health, not only in terms of heart disease, but also osteoporosis prevention and menopause symptom reduction.

Menopause Heart Disease Treatment

The choice of treatment of heart disease in postmenopause will greatly depend on the type of the condition that was diagnosed, its severity, and other associated risk factors.

Lifestyle Changes

Implementing wholesome changes to one's lifestyle will benefit all postmenopausal women, regardless of their health status. They essentially include the aforementioned preventative measures, such eating a heart-healthy diet, staying physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting harmful habits, and reducing stress on a regular basis.

Herbal Supplements

While herbal supplements on their own will not treat heart disease, they can help women better take care of their health after menopause. Phytoestrogenic supplements, such as soy, may help regulate lipid levels, while hormone-regulating supplements, like Macafem, can help ease the negative effects of hormonal lows in postmenopausal women.

Medications

Depending on the type of heart disease, women may be prescribed medications to manage it more effectively and prevent further complications.

Data regarding cardioprotective benefits of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is controversial as they depend on its type, timing, and dosage. Due to strong evidence that it may increase the risk of blood clots and stroke, HRT is not recommended for heart disease prevention. Also, women with existing heart disease are advised against taking HRT as well.9,10

Surgery

As with medications, women with heart disease after menopause may be recommended various medical procedures or surgeries to manage their condition, prevent serious complications, and prolong their lifespan. Depending on the type of the underlying disease, they may help dissolve blood clots, restore blood flow, and improve heart function, among other benefits.

Key Takeaway

While heart disease is often thought to affect mostly men, it is the main cause of death among postmenopausal women, far surpassing breast cancer. Studies have shown that increased risks of cardiovascular disease appear about 10 years after women's final periods. Although menopause itself does not cause heart issues, numerous physiological changes that take place during the transition make women more prone to developing them. They include low hormone levels, weight gain, and abnormal lipid levels, among others. The majority of emphasis is placed on preventing menopause heart disease through regular check-ups, proper nutrition, addiction control, and regular exercise. Treatment, however, depends on the type of heart disease and include wholesome lifestyle habits, herbal supplements, medications, and surgery.