Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in women after the menopause. Many women perceive breast cancer as their biggest concern when in fact women are nine times more likely to die from heart disease than breast cancer. As oestrogen levels fall, often from the mid forties onwards, the protective effect on the heart is lost and changes occur which can lead to an increased risk of heart disease.
Risk factors for CVD:
- Being overweight – obesity is more common in women than in men after the age of 45 and during the menopause there is a change in body fat distribution with the “pear” shape changing to the “apple” shape which can increase the risk of heart disease.
- Blood pressure - high blood pressure (hypertension), is a major risk and control of this helps to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Cholesterol – menopause is associated with a gradual increase in cholesterol, particularly the “bad” cholesterol which can increase the risk of heart disease.
- Medications are now often prescribed for the control of cholesterol.
- Smoking – one of the most important risks for heart disease.
- Diabetes – is becoming increasingly common with the risk of heart disease from diabetes being higher in women.
Reducing the risks of CVD:
- Stop smoking
- Maintain a healthy weight – eat a healthy, varied, well balanced diet, low in fat, high infibre and aim for 5 portions of fruit / vegetables per day.
- Take regular weight bearing exercise – such as brisk walking.
HRT and the Heart:
There have been many studies on the effects of HRT and the heart. Current evidence shows no increased risk in heart disease when HRT is started under the age 60 and may in fact reduce the risk of heart disease before the age of 60 and within 10 years of the menopause, however further evidence is required. There appears to be a small increase risk of stroke in women on non-oral form of HRT, but not with trans-dermal (patch or gel) HRT.