From the Journals

Menopause transition affects heart health risks



Menopause is a key time to monitor women for the development or increase of cardiovascular risk factors, according to a new consensus statement developed by the Task Force on Gender of the European Society of Cardiology and a multidisciplinary ESC working group on Women’s Health in Menopause.

“After menopause, traditional cardiovascular risk factors are adversely affected – particularly hypertension,” wrote Angela H.E.M. Maas, MD, of Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, Netherlands, and colleagues.

“Since the first ESC consensus paper on the management of cardiovascular risk in perimenopausal women was published in 2007, we have a greater understanding on the role of female-specific risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD),” they said.

In a consensus statement published in the European Heart Journal, the authors presented clinical guidance for diagnosis and management of cardiovascular risk factors during the menopause transition. The transition to menopause increases a woman’s risk for developing several CVD risk factors, including central adiposity, increased insulin resistance, a proatherogenic lipid profile, and autonomic dysfunction that can contribute to increased heart rate variability, according to the statement.

Estrogen changes may affect ischemic disease

In general, obstructive coronary artery disease (CAD) strikes women later than men, but coronary vasomotor conditions are a common cause of ischemic heart disease in women with or without CAD, the authors noted.

“Lower estrogen levels after menopause are related to altered vascular function, enhanced inflammation, and up-regulation of other hormonal systems such as the renin–angiotensin–aldosterone system, the sympathetic nervous system, and reduced nitric oxide–dependent vasodilation,” they wrote. They recommended use of the coronary artery calcium score for screening middle-aged women who are symptomatic or at intermediate cardiovascular risk.

The transition to menopause causes changes in lipid profiles, and a rise in blood pressure in particular “may be both a direct effect of hormonal changes on the vasculature and metabolic changes with aging,” but hypertension in early post menopause is “often poorly managed,” the authors noted.

Compared with asymptomatic women, women who suffer from severe menopausal symptoms often have increased cardiovascular disease risk factors. For example, the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study showed a 48% increased risk of incident diabetes at follow-up in women with severe symptoms of hot flashes and night sweats, the authors wrote. Clinicians should also be aware of the increased immune reactivity that occurs during and after menopause and the increased CVD risk associated with autoimmune and endocrine disorders, they said.

Multiple strategies to reduce risk

Strategies to address the cardiovascular risk in menopause include assessing glucose, lipid levels, and blood pressure during the transition to menopause, according to the statement.

In addition, they recommended increasing employer awareness of menopause, as changes may interfere with working ability. A healthy lifestyle including healthy diet and regular exercise can help reduce cardiovascular risks and relieve symptoms. Menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) may be indicated to relieve symptoms, including symptoms of depression, and provide cardioprotection for younger women around the time of menopause, according to the statement.

However, “MHT is not recommended in women at high CV risk and after a previous CVD event,” and all women should be assessed for cardiovascular risk factors before starting MHT, they emphasized.


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