Women, Heart Disease and Early Menopause
Today I’m talking about our heart health and how we can protect our beating hearts.
I will be discussing:
What our heart does for us
What can go wrong with our heart
What are the risk factors for a heart attack and stroke
Do our risk factors change after menopause
Are the signs of a heart attack the same for women
How you can prevent heart disease
What our heart’s do for us
Men’s and women’s hearts are physiologically the same.
For instance, we each have four chambers, with four valves that regulate the flow of blood in our heart.
It’s the heart’s job to pump blood through the body, providing our body with oxygen and nutrients, while carrying waste away.
It is also responsible for falling in love, and sometimes, falling out of.
The average heart will beat around 100,000 times in a one day (unless you do one of my YouTube workouts, then tack on another 500 beats), and pump about 7,570 litres of blood daily.
What can go wrong with our heart
When our heart is working efficiently we don’t really give it much thought.
We take it for granted, kinda. Like how a Kardashian takes for granted that we care about all of their selfies. Until something starts to go wrong.
And there are number of things that can wrong with our heart.
The first is coronary heart disease, which is really an umbrella term for most of the ailments that occur to our heart and blood vessels.
These can be:
- Arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
- Atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries)
- Arrhythmias (irregular rhythm of the heart – liken this to mixing a rap song with Yanni)
- Congenial defects (a condition existing since birth)
- Angina (when the heart does not get enough blood to it, unlike Trump where the brain does not get enough blood to it)
- Heart attacks
What are a women’s risk factors for heart disease
The Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation states that while women are living longer today, that doesn’t mean we don’t face the threat of heart disease.
Cardiovascular disease (this is heart disease and stroke), is a leading cause of death for Canadian women and most women have at least one risk factor.
These risk factors include:
- High blood pressure
- Mental stress and depression (women’s hearts are more affected by this then men’s)
- Being overweight
- High cholesterol (particularly our low density lipids, or LDL levels)
- Family history,
Menopause is also a risk factor.
Menopause – a risk factor for heart disease
Our hormone estrogen helps the arteries be more flexible and helps to strengthen the interior walls. This is a positive, however as we enter menopause and our levels of estrogen drop we lose that protective edge.
In addition to the drop of estrogen our bodies go through other changes too (no kidding!).
This includes a raise in our blood pressure, our LDL levels may also increase, and our HDL levels (good cholesterol) may decline.
Triglycerides (groups of fatty cells contained within the blood vessels), also go up during and after menopause.
Each of these raises our risk for a cardiac event a little higher.
Are the signs of a heart attack the same for women?
I remember when I first started in the industry we were taught that the signs of a heart attack in a pre-menopausal woman was different from that from a man.
The Canadian Heart and Stroke now suggest that this may not be the case.
Both women and men may experience:
- Pain in the arm, throat, upper back or jaw
- Chest pain
Women may describe their pain differently and we may also shrug our symptoms off as anxiety or indigestion.
We also get misdiagnosed a lot.
The Atlantic in 2015 reported that thousands of American women with heart disease are misdiagnosed every year, and with fatal consequenses.
In the UK it was reported in a recent study that 1 in 3 heart attack cases over there are misdiagnosed, with men significantly less likely than women to be initially wrongly diagnosed.
How to prevent heart disease during menopause
So, how can you help prevent a jammer from happening to you?
The best way to protect your heart is with:
- Aerobic exercise 30-45 minutes, 3-5 times a week
- Reducing your stress
- Not smoking
- Eating a healthy diet
- Reducing your weight to a healthy level
- Seeing your doctor for a cardiovascular risk stratification to see which factors are significant for you