Hot flushes, brain fog, and mood swings are commonly known symptoms of the perimenopause and menopause but cardiovascular disease is actually the biggest killer of women.
Our heart health can be greatly impacted by going through the menopause.
Women throughout Wakefield are taking part in the Me & Menopause project which was set up by Nova Wakefield District and MenoHealth in conjunction with community organisations to deliver menopause awareness training such as how to reduce the risk of symptoms such as our heart health.
MenoHealth explain how cardiovascular disease can impact you and how to prevent it:
Our heart beats around 39 million times in a year and we take it for granted until such a time when something goes wrong.
So why does menopause have an impact on our heart?
Oestrogen acts like a shield against coronary artery disease by regulating cholesterol levels and preventing the accumulation of fatty plaques within artery walls. As oestrogen declines during and post-menopause, there’s a heightened risk of the blood vessels narrowing which can cause high blood pressure.
Cholesterol levels can also be affected with “bad” cholesterol (LDL low-density lipoprotein) increasing and “good” cholesterol (HDL high-density lipoprotein) decreasing.
HRT and heart health
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) can help replace oestrogen but not everyone can (or wants) to take it. This is a personal decision that has to be made with the help of a medical professional and depends on your situation and existing health conditions such as a history of blood clots. Although taking HRT in tablet form may elevate the risk of blood clots, this risk can be mitigated by taking HRT in the form of a patch or gel.
And to scotch any myths about HRT and heart attacks, the recent evidence suggests that women taking HRT do not have a higher risk of fatal heart attacks compared to those who do not use HRT.
Early menopause and heart health
If you experience early menopause, before the age of 40, it’s important to discuss taking HRT and other suitable medications with your GP to ensure you protect your heart during the years you would otherwise have benefited from the protective effects of oestrogen.
Know your numbers
Give yourself a health MOT and get your cholesterol levels checked (many pharmacies offer this now). Even if you eat a healthy diet, some people have high cholesterol levels due to an inherited condition which is passed through families (familial hypercholesterolaemia).
High blood pressure doesn’t always cause tell-tale symptoms which is why it’s so important to get your blood pressure checked. It’s so easy to do and knowing your risk is vital to help prevent cardiovascular disease. Ask at your GP surgery or local pharmacy for a free blood pressure check up.
Some people experience palpitations or the sensation of a racing heart during menopause. While unsettling, these palpitations are often harmless and typically not indicative of any underlying heart issue. Nevertheless, it’s best to check with your GP if you experience palpitations to get the reassurance you need and then look at the things you can do to help your heart health through menopause and beyond, such as reducing stress, getting better sleep, eating well and moving more.
Physical activity is key
Any physical activity is beneficial and aerobic exercise is fantastic for your heart. It can help you maintain a healthy weight, reduce the risk of high blood pressure, keep blood glucose levels in balance and reduce cholesterol levels.
It’s recommended that you do at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise (such as brisk walking) or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise. But you can break this down into manageable chunks. The key is to feel the difference, so your heart rate increases, you breathe harder and feel warmer.
Aerobic exercise includes running, swimming, dancing and even stair-climbing – just try to find something you enjoy and make it part of your daily routine.
Nutrition for a healthy heart:
To help keep cholesterol levels in check try to cut out ultra-processed foods which tend to contain trans fats. And aim to replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats such as olive oil, avocados and nuts.
Aim to eat a wide range of colourful vegetables and fruits as these foods are rich in antioxidants, fibre, vitamins and minerals that support heart health.
Reducing salt intake can help to keep blood pressure down – watch out for hidden salt in food such as take-away meals and even breakfast cereals. The traffic light labelling system can tell you at a glance whether food has a high, medium or low amount of saturated fat, sugar or salt.
Remember to check with a healthcare professional or registered dietician before making any significant dietary changes or beginning any exercise regime especially if you have any health conditions or concerns.
For more information about symptoms and to find a local Me & Menopause support group near you, go to:
https://www.menohealth.co.uk/ and https://www.nova-wd.org.uk/news/introducing-our-new-project-me-menopause