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Keeping Your Heart Healthy at Menopause

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the leading cause of death for women age 65 and older and is the second leading cause of death among women ages 45 to 64 in the United States and Canada. It includes many conditions, such as myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, hypertension, stroke, and valvular heart disease.

Menopause and CVD risk

After menopause, however, a woman’s risk increases (especially after age 65), leading some to suggest that estrogen provides cardioprotective benefits. The extent to which lowered estrogen levels may lead to an increase in CVD risk is not clear, but research continues, including investigations into whether hot flashes are related to a woman’s CVD risk.

Risk factors

Major risk factors associated with CVD in women include:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Poor diet, obesity, metabolic syndrome
  • Family history of CVD

Screening

Your clinician may use the Framingham Risk Score to estimate your 10-year risk for developing CVD events. Points are assigned to various levels of risk, which are then translated into the 10-year estimated risk for CVD events. Risk factors included are age, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, ongoing treatment for hypertension, and cigarette smoking. It is also recommended by the Canadian Cardiovascular Society.

Lifestyle modification

Women with risk factors for CVD should initiate lifestyle changes to decrease their overall risk. Some of the changes recommended by the American Heart Association are:

  • Eating a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol
  • Stopping smoking
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Exercising 30 to 60 minutes most days
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