Does Menopause Cause Cardiovascular Disease?

Last updated 02.24.2024 | by Sabrina Johnson | 7 Minutes Read

This article has been reviewed and fact checked by Dr. Karen Pike, a senior physician administrator and board-certified emergency room doctor actively working in northern California. Read more at our medical disclaimer page.


Did you know that a woman’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) increases as she enters menopause? Hormonal changes during perimenopause and menopause may lead to various health concerns, which can increase the chances of CVD.

But it’s not all bad news. By learning how to stay fit and well during this transitional time, we can avoid these potential conditions, ensuring that we journey through menopause with health and vitality.

I’ve treated numerous patients with CVD during my career in emergency medicine, and many of them have been postmenopausal women. However, those who are most at risk appear to be women who enter menopause early.

So, it’s essential that we understand our own personal risk factors and take care of our bodies throughout menopause and beyond.

Are you concerned about cardiovascular disease as you enter this next phase of life? In this post, I’ll explain everything you need to know about the connection between menopause and CVD. Plus, I’ll share some lifestyle changes that can lower your risk and help you to stay healthy.

What is Cardiovascular Disease? (CVD)

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a collective term used to describe a wider family of diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels.

The most common type of CVD is coronary heart disease (CHD). CHD is a condition characterized by narrowing or blocking of the coronary arteries. These arteries supply the heart muscle with blood, so when they’re impeded (due to a build-up of fatty deposits over time), it can lead to a heart attack.

CHD tends to affect men more than women in earlier life. However, after a woman reaches menopause, her risk factor increases.

Other examples of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) include cardiomyopathy, heart failure, hypertensive heart disease, arrhythmia, and congenital heart disease.

What is the Connection Between Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) and Menopause?

Estrogen is more than just a reproductive hormone. It also protects our hearts by keeping blood vessels healthy, maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, and reducing the build-up of plaque in the arteries.

So, when menopause arrives, and estrogen levels fall, these heart-healthy benefits also reduce, leaving women at a higher risk of developing CVD.

These hormonal shifts also increase the chances of developing certain health issues during menopause, including weight gain, insulin resistance, diabetes, arterial hypertension, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. These conditions, among others, can weaken the heart muscle and make us more susceptible to CVD.

Early Menopause and Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)

While menopause and the natural aging process increase the risk factors for CVD, the most at-risk group appears to be women who experience early menopause. This is due to less heart-healthy estrogen in the body at a younger age.

Menopause is considered to be early if you experience 12 consecutive months without a period before the age of 45.

What are the Symptoms of Cardiovascular Disease?

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a blanket term that covers several health conditions affecting the heart and the circulatory system. The symptoms of each of these conditions can vary; however, here are some general signs that you may be experiencing an underlying cardiovascular issue:

  • Chest pain
  • Pain in the shoulder, arms, jaw, elbow, or back
  • A feeling of pressure in the chest
  • Heart palpitations
  • Breathlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

If you notice any of these symptoms, seek medical advice immediately.

How Can I Prevent Cardiovascular Disease During Menopause?

Since the risk factor for cardiovascular disease increases during and after menopause, it’s important to take steps to reduce the chances of developing an associated condition.

CVD is one of the leading causes of death in postmenopausal women. However, it is also one of the easiest conditions to prevent. Here are some lifestyle changes that can help to keep your heart healthy.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Weight gain is a common symptom of menopause. Like most women, I noticed the number on the scale creeping up when I entered perimenopause. However, an increase in body fat can raise the risk of developing CVD, and those extra pounds can also increase your chances of developing other chronic conditions. So, try to keep your weight in the recommended BMI range of 18.5–24.9.

Get Plenty of Exercises

Exercise doesn’t just keep your weight down; it also reverses many of the risk factors that can lead to cardiovascular disease.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that women engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. This might sound like a lot, but with a little planning, it’s possible to incorporate this into your routine without too much extra effort.

In my busy work schedule, I find that spreading my workouts throughout the week helps to ensure I hit my own exercise targets. For example, I try to squeeze in 3 x 20-minute strength training sessions each week, alongside a twice weekly 30-minute run. Then, on the weekends, I cycle to my local gym for morning Zumba classes. This doesn’t just boost my physical health but also improves my mood significantly.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Avoid processed and sugary foods; these can lead to weight gain and increase the risk of developing CVD. Instead, opt for heart-healthy foods such as lean protein and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Increasing your intake of polyunsaturated fats and omega-3s can also help to protect your heart. These are found in foods such as oily fish (including mackerel, salmon, and sardines,) flaxseed, walnuts, grass-fed meat and dairy, and pasture-raised eggs.

Quit Smoking

As an emergency room doctor, I see hundreds of patients each year with life-threatening complications due to smoking. Smoking raises the risk of various chronic health conditions, including all types of cardiovascular disease. So, quitting is one of the best things you can do for your health.

There is plenty of support available to help you quit. A great place to start is smokefree.gov.

FAQs

Can hormone replacement therapy (HRT) reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in menopausal women?

Yes. HRT can reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease in menopausal and postmenopausal women. By replacing lost estrogen in the body, risk factors for all cardiovascular diseases are decreased.

However, HRT comes with its own potential side effects, and it’s not for everyone. To find out if you’re a suitable candidate for this type of treatment, speak to your doctor.

Are there any other medical treatments available for cardiovascular disease (CVD)?

Yes. Depending on the nature of the condition, there may be treatments that can help. Examples include cholesterol-reducing medications and medications that regulate the heart’s rhythms and improve blood flow around the body.

In some cases, surgery such as a coronary artery bypass may also be recommended to reduce the risk of complications in the future.

Do women have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) than men?

Men are more likely to develop CVD in early life than women are. This is due in part to the protective effects of estrogen on the heart and blood vessels. However, after menopause, when estrogen levels are diminished, women are just as likely as men to develop a CVD-related condition.

Conclusion

Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death for postmenopausal women in the United States.

I’ve treated thousands of women with heart and circulatory conditions during my career in emergency medicine, but many of their issues could have been prevented by lifestyle changes and earlier medical intervention.

So, if you’re concerned about your risk of cardiovascular disease during or after menopause, seek help from your doctor as soon as possible. They can assess your symptoms, provide an accurate diagnosis, and prescribe treatment plans and lifestyle modifications that can help.

Author

  • Sabrina Johnson

    Meet Sabrina Johnson, a compassionate author and a seasoned expert in Obstetrics and Gynecology. She is a driving force behind Simply Menopause, where her extensive medical knowledge and empathetic nature come together to empower women in their menopausal journey. Sabrina offers culturally sensitive guidance and support through her approachable writing, making her a trusted friend on the path to menopause wellness.