Many believe that heart diseases affect men more than women. That’s the first myth busted! Heart diseases affect both men and women. The reason we hear about men being affected by heart complications more than women is that women are protected by the hormone oestrogen, the primary sex hormone in females, which is responsible for the functioning of their menstrual cycle.
The ovaries produce oestrogen during the reproductive age of a woman. As women age and reach menopause, the levels of oestrogen fall. It has been shown that before the age of 60 years, women are at a lesser risk of developing heart disease when compared to men. After that age, the risk of attaining various cardiovascular diseases begin to equate with that of men.[2,3]
What role does oestrogen play?
Oestrogen is known to play a protective role for the blood vessels and the heart. It is able to keep the blood vessels dilated and also participates in lipid metabolism and blood clot formation. These are all processes that can directly or indirectly affect the heart’s functioning. Blood clot formation or deposition of waxy substances on the walls of the blood vessels can reduce the blood flow to different organs of the body. The smaller blood vessels are more easily affected, thereby leading to a disorder called microvascular coronary artery disease, which may or may not show external signs.
About 50% of women may experience symptoms like chest pain. But, up to 10% of women do not experience any symptoms at all.4 A study from the Netherlands noted that women who experience chest pain are at a higher risk of developing major heart events in the future. The study states that it’s crucial for women to take measures to modify their lifestyle to reduce any risks associated with heart disorders.
What can you do to avoid these conditions?
There are many risks associated with menopause, heart disease being one of the significant ones in the list. Menopause is something that you cannot avert, but there are other things that you can do to slow down the development of heart conditions.
Here are a few useful solutions for you:
- Keep a check on your cholesterol levels: As you age, the level of LDL (bad cholesterol) may begin to build up and increase, and the level of HDL (good cholesterol) may begin to drop. It’s good to incorporate fibre-rich foods or whole grains in your diet that help maintains healthy cholesterol levels.
- Continue to exercise regularly even after menopause: The American Heart Association recommends that women should workout for at least 150 minutes a week to avert the risk of heart diseases. If your weight is above the average limit, then try to exercise for 300 minutes a week. That’s 1 hour of physical activity for 5 days a week. Now, physical activity doesn’t always have to be gymming; it can be other activities like dancing, cycling or swimming.
- Quit smoking: Smoking is one of those unhealthy habits that could cause a disturbance in your hormonal levels, increase the formation of blood clots, and decrease the flexibility of your blood vessels. All of these factors will directly put you at a very high risk of heart diseases. So, it’s best to get rid of this habit.
- Get the correct nutrients: As they say, your body is a temple; treat it right. To lower your risk of heart disorders, it’s important that you pay attention to what you put inside your body. Remember to include more fruits, vegetables, fish and nuts in your regular diet. Limit the intake of sugar, red meat and high-fat products. Go for skimmed milk instead of full cream every once in a while.1
Menopause may seem like a difficult process, but following these tips may help make your transition easier. Strive to keep your vitals in check. Your body needs as much attention as all your other responsibilities. Speak with your doctor if it becomes too daunting or join a support group. Nothing is too challenging to get through when you are ready to give it a tough fight!
- Menopause and heart disease [Internet]. [updated 2015 Jul 31; cited 2019 Jul 23]. Available from: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/consumer-healthcare/what-is-cardiovascular-disease/menopause-and-heart-disease.
- Ischemic Heart Disease [Internet]. [cited 2019 Jul 23]. Available from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/ischemic-heart-disease.
- Elias-Smale SE, Günal A, Maas AH. Gynecardiology: Distinct patterns of ischemic heart disease in middle-aged women. Maturitas. 2015 Jul;81(3):348-52. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2015.04.012.
- Chiu MH, Heydari B, Batulan Z, Maarouf N, Subramanya V, Schenck-Gustafsson K, O’Brien ER. Coronary artery disease in post-menopausal women: are there appropriate means of assessment? Clin Sci (Lond). 2018 Sep 5;132(17):1937-1952. doi: 10.1042/CS20180067.