Menopause is when a woman stops having periods. The stage leading up to this point, called perimenopause, commonly starts in a woman’s late 30s to 40s and lasts for months to years. During perimenopause, a woman’s body produces less estrogen and other hormones. Her body releases eggs less regularly, and the woman has shorter and more irregular menstrual cycles. A woman is less fertile during this time, though she can still become pregnant.

Hormone changes during perimenopause may lead to physical and emotional symptoms, such as hot flashes, mood swings, and trouble sleeping. These hormone changes, particularly the drop in estrogen, can also affect the heart. Studies suggest that estrogen may keep blood vessels healthy and help prevent atherosclerosis, and the drop in estrogen during menopause likely raises a woman's risk for heart disease.

Aging brings other changes that make heart disease more likely. A woman’s metabolism may slow down, leading to weight gain. Blood pressure and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels may increase. An unhealthy lifestyle, including smoking and lack of exercise, can add to these risk factors for heart disease. In fact, smoking can lead to earlier menopause, further increasing your risk for heart disease.

Listen to your body, see your doctor
If you notice health changes that may due to menopause, see your doctor to have your heart disease risk evaluated. You and your doctor can discuss what further tests are right for you.

Taking care of your health is important at any age, but it’s even more important after menopause. Learn what you can do for your heart health, then make lifestyle changes and see your doctor for screenings. With care, you can live a longer, healthier life.