By: Red Hot Mamas
Published: February 15, 2012
RED is the color of the month in February! Not only is February loaded with all the red Valentine’s Day goodies, it’s also American Heart Month. It’s easy to overlook many of the other national monthly designations, but American Heart Month is difficult to forget. If for some reason you have forgotten, maybe you need to be reminded of the numbers.
In the United States alone, more than 500,000 women die of cardiovascular disease each year. It is the leading killer of women of all ages. One in three women will die from cardiovascular disease. Yet, many women don’t recognize the threat they face.
Red Hot Mamas will be providing a series of important articles over the next few months so that we can understand the hearts of women. This is being done to bridge the knowledge gap women have surrounding heart disease and to provide a roadmap to heart healthiness. To help us accomplish this objective, our newest medical advisor, Dr. Verna Brooks McKenzie provided us with an overview describing why you’re more susceptible to heart disease at menopause.
Menopause, the final menstrual period, is an important milestone in women’s lives. It is the time of transition into an estrogen deficient state. Estradiol, the prominent female hormone in premenopausal women is produced by the ovaries. After menopause, estrone is the predominant hormone and it’s effects are much weaker than that of estradiol. Estrogen exerts its effects in many tissues and organs throughout the body including the heart and blood vessels. It has been demonstrated in animal and clinical studies that estrogen increases the production of nitric oxide in healthy blood vessels resulting in vasodilation and increased blood flow. Estrogen lowers the total cholesterol, increases the HDL (good cholesterol and), lowers the LDL (bad cholesterol) and reduces deposition of fat in the walls of blood vessels. These are some of the positive effects of estrogen, which help to decrease the risk for heart disease in premenopausal women. The decline in estrogen levels at the time of menopause puts women at a greater risk for coronary heart disease (CHD), the major type of heart disease in adults resulting from blockage of arteries supplying blood to the heart.
Heart disease is often times a silent disease and many women harbor the misconception that this is a disease affecting men and their risks are not as great. Once a woman reaches age 51, the age of natural menopause, her risk for heart disease increases dramatically and the ages of greatest risk are between the ages of 64-68 years. For younger women who have a surgical menopause (removal of both ovaries) or early menopause (before age 45) and for women with additional risk factors such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, smoking and family history of heart disease, the risks are even greater. At the time of menopause Black women are more likely to be overweight or obese, have high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, which increases their risk of dying more often.
Many women are unaware that symptoms may differ from those of men and are often subtler. Symptoms such as bloating, nausea and epigastric discomfort may be mistaken for indigestion, which is often experienced by postmenopausal women, and jaw pain may mimic a toothache. Some women may take extreme weakness or fatigue as a time to rest and not work so hard. Nonspecific symptoms may also go unnoticed or are ignored, often making diagnosis difficult and nearly two third of deaths from heart attack in women occur among those with no history of chest pain.
During the menopause transition and menopause many women are grappling with the symptoms of the change of life. Black women are often the caregivers and may neglect looking after themselves but this period of time in life’s journey is a wonderful opportunity for us to take a proactive approach to our health in order to achieve a good quality of life as we march into the second half of our lives. Women are living longer, the baby boomers are aging and more than 105 million women in the US are in the menopause transition and menopause. With increasing life expectancy it is imperative that women know their risks for heart disease the number one killer of women post menopause and take the necessary steps to change their lifestyle in order to maximize life with the minimum amount of disability.
About the Author: Verna Brooks McKenzie MB., BS., FACOG, NCMP is an Obstetrician and Gynecologist / Certified Menopause Practitioner with over seventeen years of experience in training, lecturing and public speaking on women’s reproductive health issues internationally including Ghana West Africa. Learn more about Dr. McKenzie and our other Red Hot Mamas advisors.
Read more about heart health & menopause