A recent study shows that women approaching menopause and those who have recently experienced menopause are very likely to experience significant metabolic and vascular changes that increase the risk of heart disease. This study confirms the importance of prevention during this period, particularly through a healthy lifestyle.
Menopause is a period in a woman’s life during which her menstruation stops for good. It usually occurs at the age of about 50 years. It is a natural phenomenon, a normal phase in a woman’s life, but not without contributing to heart disease. New research by scientists at the University of Pittsburgh confirms the link between this crucial period and the risks to the heart. Their study published by the American Heart Association states that the onset of the post-menopausal period provides an opportunity to assess cardiovascular risk factors and take measures to correct them.
And it’s not without reason that scientists discovered that one of the risk markers for heart disease deteriorates significantly when women go into menopause. According to professor Samar R. El Khoudary, the lead author of the study the fifties are not just the time when women experience hot flashes and other known menopause symptoms but also when the risk of their cardiovascular disease is increasing. The study is based on a cohort of 339 women called SWAN.
A significant increase in arterial stiffness
Scientists have looked at how their cardiovascular health changes over time, focusing in particular on how arterial stiffness changes as women in the cohort enter menopause. Arterial stiffness refers to the elasticity of the arteries and is measured by examining the rate of blood flow through the arteries. Arterial stiffness can lead to a disruption in the way the heart pumps blood and can actually damage the heart and other organs. It appears that as women approach menopause, their arterial stiffness has increased by about 0.9% in the year before their last menstruation.
This process was then significantly accelerated as their arterial stiffness in the previous year and after their last menstrual period was about 7.5%. The results were maintained after adaptation to a number of factors that can affect heart health, including waist size, blood pressure, lipids, smoking, level of physical activity and stress. “Although there are limitations in our research, including the fact that a significant minority of women have had arterial stiffness measured only once, we still find that major cardiovascular changes occur around menopause,” the researchers add.
Women should be aware that their cardiovascular health is at risk of deteriorating.
Although the study cannot explain exactly why such changes were observed during menopause, the researchers believe that the major hormonal changes associated with menopause can play a role in increasing inflammation and influencing the accumulation of vascular fat, a hypothesis they would like to test in future studies. Further work will also be needed to investigate whether lifestyle interventions such as diet and exercise, taking medications such as statins or hormone replacement therapy can be useful when women are menopausal.
Above all women need to be informed that their cardiovascular fitness may deteriorate as they go through menopause. That’s why it’s necessary to check the cardiovascular risk factors often.