Protect Your Heart

Hot flashes. Mood swings. Hormone fluctuations. Mix in those symptoms with a 40-to-50-year age range, and you have the markers of menopause. Chances are you’ve heard about, read about or even experienced some of these symptoms. The changes in a woman’s body during this cycle of life can be confusing, concerning and extremely challenging. Most women know it’s coming, and are resigned to weather those difficulties as smoothly as possible.

But what about the symptoms you aren’t aware of? How do you handle symptoms that aren’t as commonly discussed, but can be equally as distressing, if not alarming? Cardiac issues are one of the lesser known and not as frequently discussed problems that can accompany menopause. And while menopause itself doesn’t cause heart conditions, the activities going on within a woman’s body can contribute to cardiological issues.

As ominous as it sounds, there is hope. Factors and actions well within your control can help keep your body and particularly your heart healthy through the menopause process.

A natural biological process, menopause occurs when a woman has gone 12 months without having a menstrual period. Mayoclinic.org notes that the average age of menopause for women in the United States is 51; however, it can happen to a woman in her 40s or 50s, and for some women as young as their late 30s.

During the months, and even years, leading up to actual menopause, a variety of symptoms can begin to manifest. In addition to hot flashes and mood swings, chills, problems sleeping, weight gain, irregular periods, thinning hair, breast tenderness, and dry skin can also be symptomatic of what’s to come. The onset of so many changes in a woman’s body can be a physical, mental and emotional rollercoaster.

According to everydayhealth.com, an estimated 25% to 40% of women also experience heart palpitations while going through menopause. Most women think it’s uncommon because it’s not talked about often enough. One day everything seems fine. The next, your heart appears to be beating faster, causing you alarm. Or, you feel like your heart rate is slower than usual, which can be scary. Some variations in heart rhythms can be further classified as atrial fibrillation.

The abnormalities seem to appear out of nowhere before a woman even realizes she is at the beginning stages of menopause. The physical and hormonal changes in the body can even move from errant heartbeats to concerns about an increased risk of heart disease. And with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stating that in 2015, heart disease was the leading cause of death in women in the United States, there’s plenty of reason to take note.

While there’s a definite cause for concern, fear can be alleviated by knowledge and understanding of what is happening to your body – and why. The natural process of aging can cause increased health risks; but why would menopause make it worse? It all boils down to what’s going on inside of you.

Estrogen levels decrease dramatically during menopause. When that happens, heart and blood vessels stiffen, becoming less elastic. As a result, blood pressure can rise, leading to hypertension and added strain on the heart. Changes in heart rhythms and many other symptoms can take effect. Lack of estrogen also has the potential to wreak havoc with cholesterol levels. Bad cholesterol (LDL) can spike, while good cholesterol (HDL) can go down. Problematic cholesterol levels can trigger heart disease.

Also, women may become resistant to insulin during menopause, courtesy of hormonal fluctuations. Not reigned in, insulin resistance can progress to a prediabetic or diabetic diagnosis. Having diabetes puts you at higher risk for developing heart disease, or having a stroke.

The least popular but often honest answer as to why a specific symptom is manifesting is that there’s no definitive, concrete answer.  That may not be reassuring, but what is comforting is that solutions exist, and you play a major part in their success.

In fact, a lot of the basics that doctors advise will go a long way in combatting and even preventing heart issues during menopause.

Eating right is a given. A healthy diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables can not only decrease the risk of heart disease but affect other aspects of your health positively as well.

Exercise is always beneficial, no matter what your age. During menopause, that critical movement can prevent your heart from stiffening as you get older. At least 150 minutes of exercise per week is recommended.

Proper nutrition and exercise will lend itself to another important component – maintaining a healthy weight.

Putting down the coffee cup and removing caffeine from your diet can be a big help too.

Menopause.org notes that controlling your blood pressure, and eliminating tobacco products from your lifestyle will also improve your chances of keeping heart maladies at bay.

Aging is a part of life and menopause is one of the natural phases that a woman will encounter as she gets older. Instead of feeling dread or impending doom, approach it with the confidence that preparation can bring. Start now with the recommended methods to maintain optimum health.

And of course, go see your doctor for any unusual or disquieting symptoms.

Your heart will thank you for it.

February 13, 2019

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