Menopause and heart disease

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Before the menopause, women in general have a lower risk of being affected by coronary heart disease. But after the menopause, your risk increases.

Why does the menopause affect your heart?

Oestrogen is a hormone naturally produced in a woman’s body which forms a vital part of regulating her menstrual cycle. It can offer some protection against coronary artery disease therefore reducing the risk of a heart attack. It helps to control your cholesterol levels and so reduces the risk of fatty plaques building up inside the artery walls. 

As we get older the blood vessels can become stiffer, caused by high blood pressure. This is a risk factor associated with heart attacks and stroke

During and after the menopause, a woman’s body gradually produces less oestrogen than it used to. This increases the risk of the coronary arteries narrowing whereas it previously protected the lining of the artery walls reducing the build-up of plaque. This increases your risk of developing coronary heart disease, or a circulatory condition such as stroke.

Does hormone replacement therapy (HRT) affect your risk of heart and circulatory disease?

Women going through the menopause can suffer from unpleasant symptoms, such as hot flushes, night sweats and mood swings. If you experience these, you may be prescribed hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help relieve the symptoms.

HRT can be very effective for relieving some symptoms of the menopause. But some women avoid taking it because they worry that it may increase their risk of certain health conditions such as blood clots.

Taking HRT in tablet form can increase the risk of a blood clot, which such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in the lower leg or pulmonary embolus in the lung. But this risk can be reduced by having HRT through the skin, as a patch or gel. You should discuss your individual needs with your GP.  

Recent evidence shows that menopausal women taking HRT have no higher risk of dying from a heart attack than women who don’t take HRT.

Early menopause and the heart

If you have early menopause (before the age of 40) you are at higher risk of premature coronary heart disease, so treatment is very important. Common treatments include HRT and the combined contraceptive pill - you can speak to your GP about whether these are suitable for you.

Menopause and heart palpitations

Some women who are going through the menopause may be more aware of their heart beating, or might feel as though their heart is racing. These are called palpitations. If you experience them, see your GP. For most women the palpitations are harmless and don’t mean anything is wrong with the heart, but your GP may wish to give you a check-up to be sure.

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