Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for women, accounting for more than one in three deaths each year. While women of all ages should prioritize their heart health, recent research suggests women in midlife should be especially proactive.
A study published in an American Heart Association journal found heart disease risk factors worsen throughout the menopausal transition.
Researchers evaluated data from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN), which is the largest and most extensive study conducted on middle-aged women’s health. They found along with other symptoms, like trouble sleeping, sexual dysfunction, and hot flashes, the menopausal transition was associated with changes in cardiovascular health.
Are all women at higher risk during menopause?
Researched used data from 339 women who led traditionally healthy lifestyles, free of smoking, financial stress, high blood pressure, and other factors like physical activity and weight. They were tracked over the course of 12.5 years or until they reached menopause. Regardless of their heart-healthy habits, a majority of the women experienced an acceleration in arterial stiffness.
Arterial stiffness is related to the flexibility of arteries and how quickly blood can flow through them. On average, women experienced a 0.9% increase in stiffness up to one year before their final periods, and 7.5% increase within one year before and after the last period.
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How can you prevent this?
So far, researchers have not found a treatment to prevent the decline in cardiovascular health, but researchers hope the findings will encourage women to be more aware of their risks.
“Frequent monitoring of cardiovascular risk factors may be prudent, particularly in black women who are at even greater risk earlier in the menopausal transition,” said senior author Samar R. El Khoudary, Ph.D.
Future trials will test the effects of lifestyle interventions, including change in diet and exercise, as well as certain medications or hormone replacement therapies, according to El Khoudary. But for now, ask your doctor to monitor your heart. And if you want to delay menopause, consider having more frequent sex.
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