Premenopausal women have a lower risk of heart attacks and strokes. We believe this is due to protective effects of estrogen. After menopause a woman’s estrogen levels decrease and this can lead to an increase in blood pressure, increase in LDL (”lousy” or bad) cholesterol levels, decrease in HDL (”healthy” or good) cholesterol levels, and weight gain (especially around the belly area). These are all risk factors for heart attacks and ischemic strokes.
At the International Stroke Conference last week results were presented that suggested that women who go through menopause at an earlier age may be at an increased risk for “premature” strokes. Strokes are more likely to occur in postmenopausal women - independent of age. Data from the Framingham Heart Study collected on over 1,400 women found that experiencing early menopause significantly increased a woman’s risk for stroke. Women who reached menopause before age 42 had a doubling in the risk of ischemic stroke compared to all other women.
Do you know your risk factors for heart attack and ischemic stroke? Are you at risk?
Menopause is a non-modifiable risk factor - every woman will experience menopause and the loss of the protective effects of estrogen. Many women go through menopause around the same age as their mothers - so ask your mom if she remembers when she started to experience menopausal symptoms or at what age she had a hysterectomy (especially if her ovaries were removed - this would be considered “surgical” menopause).
It is important to know all of your risk factors and to try and optimize modifiable risk factors as early as possible. “Take Charge: A Woman’s Guide to a Healthier Heart” is a new book we recently published which discussed heart disease/stroke risk factors and what women can do to decrease their risk. For more information please visit
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