Menopause And Effects On The Heart

The menopause is commonly characterised by hot flushes, sweating and mood swings, but it can also have an effect on your heart. While menopause does not cause heart disease, it is associated with some of the major risk factors and women may experience a higher risk of heart problems both during and after menopause. Heart disease is often associated with men, but it is affecting more and more women in the UK every year and it is currently the nation's biggest killer. Negative effects on your heart and your cardiovascular health during menopause result from reduced levels of oestrogen and may include:

  • Increased blood pressure: your blood pressure is the force at which blood flows through your blood vessels; high blood pressure is one of the most important risk factors for heart attacks and strokes. Menopause can cause blood pressure to increase because when your body loses oestrogen, the blood vessels lose elasticity and the muscle tissue can stiffen up; when you have high blood pressure, your heart has to work harder and this increases the risk of both acute problems and long-term complications.
  • Increased cholesterol: losing oestrogen can also cause your cholesterol to rise and affect the balance of good and bad cholesterol. Menopause may result in your good cholesterol (known as HDL) decreasing and your bad cholesterol (known as LDL) increasing. High cholesterol increases your risk of heart attacks and heart disease.
  • Diabetes: menopause increases your risk of diabetes, as it affects your response to insulin; diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease.
  • Atrial fibrillation: atrial fibrillation is characterised by abnormal heart rhythms. Women may be at higher risk of atrial fibrillation during menopause, as hormonal changes can affect heart rate and rhythm; the risk of atrial fibrillation may be higher if you have high blood pressure. Atrial fibrillation increases the risk of strokes.
  • Weight gain: gaining weight places more pressure on the heart muscle, especially if you are already overweight or obese. Menopause can cause some women to put on weight because loss of oestrogen affects metabolism and the distribution of fat.

You can reduce your risk of heart problems during and after menopause by eating a healthy diet, doing plenty of exercise and avoiding drinking and smoking; regular blood pressure checks are also highly recommended. If you notice symptoms such as a racing heart rate or palpitations, arrange to see your GP.

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