Heart disease is commonly thought of as a man’s issue, yet it uniquely impacts women. In Hawaii, it is the leading cause of death for women, and it kills more women than all cancers combined.1 These statistics are startling, but the good news is that heart disease can often be prevented by living a healthy lifestyle and learning more about your heart. For women, this includes an understanding of how the heart is impacted during the unique life events of menopause and pregnancy.
As women go through the stages of menopause, it is especially important to focus on a healthy lifestyle. The risk of heart disease often accelerates at this point in life. Not because menopause causes heart issues, but rather due to estrogen levels. This hormone keeps blood vessels relaxed and supports a healthy cholesterol balance.2 Estrogen levels decline during menopause, and this change may impact a woman’s cardiovascular health. If a woman experiences early menopause before the age of 45, or undergoes a surgical removal of her ovaries, she may also have an increased risk of heart disease.3
Additional strain is placed on a woman’s heart and blood vessels while she is pregnant. Health issues can arise for pregnant women such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. Preeclampsia is high blood pressure during pregnancy, and it affects some women who have never had high blood pressure before. It usually goes away after delivery but having the condition can increase the odds of heart failure later in life.4 Gestational diabetes also occurs for those who did not have diabetes before they were pregnant. Half of all women who had gestational diabetes develop Type 2 diabetes, a risk factor for heart disease, later in life.5
Women of all ages can benefit by prioritizing their heart-health, but this is especially true as the body changes and adapts during menopause and pregnancy. Embrace heart-healthy habits and communicate regularly with your healthcare team during these life events. For more information about heart disease in women, check out the post: Prevent Heart Disease in Recognition of National Women’s History Month.