Compared to men, many women before the age of menopause seem to be partly protected from coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke. As women age, their risk of heart disease and stroke rises. Heart disease is the number one killer of American women and is responsible for half of all the deaths of women over age 50.
Once a woman reaches the age of 50, about the age of natural menopause, her risk for heart disease increases dramatically. Menopause brings changes in the level of fats in a woman’s blood. These fats, called lipids, are used as a source of fuel for all cells. The amount of lipids per unit of blood determines a person’s cholesterol count. There are two components of cholesterol: high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which is associated with a beneficial, cleansing effect in the bloodstream, and low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which encourages fat to accumulate on the walls of arteries and eventually clog them. To remember the difference, think of the H in HDL as the health cholesterol, and the L in LDL as lethal. LDL cholesterol appears to increase while HDL decreases in postmenopausal women as a direct result of estrogen deficiency. Elevated LDL and total cholesterol can lead to stroke, heart attack, and death.
How Can Menopausal Women Reduce Their Risk of Heart Disease?
A healthy lifestyle goes a long way in preventing heart disease:
•Avoid or quit smoking. Smokers have a 70 percent increased risk of heart attack and a higher number of strokes than nonsmokers. The risk of having a heart attack or stroke is directly related to the number of cigarettes a person smokes each day—the more cigarettes smoked, the greater the risk. Continuing to smoke after a heart attack increases the chance of having a second attack.
•Maintain a healthy body weight. Extra weight puts strain on your heart and arteries. Exercise and a low-fat diet can help you lose weight. Being overweight means you have a higher risk for many other health problems, especially diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.