Published Friday, November 2nd, 2018 at 12:35 pm
Cardiovascular disease, mainly heart attack and stroke, is the single biggest killer of women in Ireland. Despite this, research carried out by the Irish Heart Foundation showed that less than one in five Irish women are aware of the signs and symptoms, even though one in three women will suffer from some form of cardiovascular disease.
Cardiac Nurse Celine George from the Mater Private Hospital in Dublin has found that many women attending the Urgent Cardiac Care Service are unaware of the increased risk factors for cardiovascular disease during menopause. Menopause is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD) as oestrogen withdrawal has a detrimental effect on cardiovascular function and metabolism. Women who undergo early menopause (before the age of 50) or surgical menopause are especially at risk, particularly when combined with other risk factors.
The overall increase in heart attacks of post-menopausal women may be the result of a decline in the natural hormone, oestrogen. Oestrogen is believed to have a positive effect on the inner layers of the artery walls, helping to keep blood vessels flexible. This means they can relax and expand to accommodate blood flow.
Risk factors for cardiovascular diseases amongst women going through menopause, especially early menopause, include;
• Being overweight or obese
• High blood pressure
• High cholesterol levels
• Inactive lifestyle
• Family history of heart problems.
Many changes occur in the body during menopause including blood pressure rising, LDL (bad cholesterol) increasing along with triglycerides a type of fat in the blood, while HDL (good cholesterol) decreases or remains the same. Symptoms of heart attack in women are less prominent, making them hard to diagnose and often the reason why heart attacks and heart disease are missed in women. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, tiredness, nausea, back pain or tightness in the jaw; however, these are quite vague compared to the more familiar symptoms of a crushing pain in the chest and associated arm pain.
Speaking about the link between menopause and cardiovascular disease, Celine George states that: “Living a healthy lifestyle is important for your heart. Regular exercise, good nutrition and eliminating bad habits such as smoking are important as they can contribute to early menopause, increase the risk of blood clots, decrease the flexibility of arteries and lower the levels of HDL cholesterol.
Steps that can be taken to reduce risk factors amongst women are;
• Eating a balanced diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, nuts and limiting red meat and sugary foods and beverages.
• Regular exercise is key, women should aim for 150 minutes of physical activity each week to prevent heart disease. Aerobic exercises such as walking, cycling, dancing and swimming are great ways to of using large muscles at low resistance.
• Quit smoking
• Lose weight if overweight or obese
• Reduce stress
• Have regular health screenings in order to identify potential risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes.
Women going through menopause, especially those who experienced early menopause should be aware of cardiac risk factors, if they have any of the common symptoms or are worried about their heart they should get it checked”
Mater Private offers Ireland’s only private 24/7 service for patients experiencing urgent cardiac symptoms. If you have any symptoms or are worried about your heart you can call the Urgent Cardiac Care Team in the Mater Private – 1800 247 999. A Cardiac Nurse will take your call, discuss your symptoms with you and put an action plan in place.