From the Journals

Menopause transition affects heart health risks



Results raise awareness of cardiovascular health and menopause link

“Over the past 20 years, our knowledge of how menopause might contribute to cardiovascular disease has dramatically evolved,” said Samar El Khoudary, MD, of the University of Pittsburg, in an interview.

“We have accumulated data that consistently point to the menopause transition as a time of change in cardiovascular health. As such, there is a compelling need to discuss the implications of the accumulating body of literature on this topic,” she said. “The goal is to raise awareness for both health care providers and women of the significant adverse cardiovascular health changes accompanying the menopause transition and to point out the importance of adopting prevention strategies early during this stage,” she explained.

The impact of the hormonal changes of menopause on CVD risk “is very complex,” Dr. El Khoudary said. “Until now, we could not prove that using estrogen therapy is cardioprotective,” she emphasized. “Studies point to the need to consider the timing of hormone use, as well as types and route of administration,” she noted. “The truth is that, although the menopause transition is associated with an acceleration in CVD risk, the exact mechanism still is not completely clear. Hormone changes contribute, but they are not the ultimate contributor,” she added.

Research gaps include data on lifestyle and behavioral interventions

“Irrespective of the accumulating findings showing adverse changes in multiple cardiovascular health parameters, as women transition through menopause, we do not have data documenting current status of ideal cardiovascular health components during the menopause transition among women,” said Dr. El Khoudary. “The limited data we have [suggest] that a very small proportion of women transitioning through menopause eat a healthy diet (less than 20%) or practice physical activity (about7.2%) at a level that matches the current recommendations,” she noted.

“Lifestyle and behavioral interventions are critical to maintain a healthy heart and reduce heart disease; we do not have adequate randomized clinical trials testing these interventions specifically during the menopause transition,” she said.

“Similarly, we are in need of randomized clinical trials of therapeutic interventions such as lipid-lowering medications and menopause hormone therapy in women transitioning through menopause,” said Dr. El Khoudary. “This high-risk population has not been the focus of previous clinical trials, leaving us with questions of how the results from these studies might apply to women during the menopause transition,” she said.

Consensus invites collaboration

“I commend the group for putting together a statement that crosses practice and specialty boundaries,” said Lubna Pal, MD, of Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn., in an interview. Although the statement does not present novel information, it “has the power of unifying the various providers by bringing focus on the individual elements spanning a woman’s life that cumulatively determine her lifetime health risk,” she said. Preeclampsia may be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease later in life, and events in reproductive age may determine a woman’s trajectory during the transition to menopause and beyond, Dr. Pal noted.

“The consensus statement will likely be read by internists and family medicine providers as well as ob.gyns.; it encourages all those involved in caring for female patients to take on the responsibility of ‘passing on the baton,’ such that all women who are deemed at an enhanced risk for cardiovascular disease are assured due diligence in care through stringent surveillance and timely interventions,” said Dr. Pal. “It is a call for the various providers who care for women at distinct stages of life to work together toward a shared goal of optimizing every woman’s health across her lifespan,” she said.

“More research is needed for us to better understand the mechanisms at play” in the development of cardiovascular risk and in understanding the continuity of changes across women’s lifespans, Dr. Pal said. “We have associations, but not much information about causation,” she emphasized. However, the statement promotes the dissemination of information about women’s health and sensitizes providers to the potential and the power of preventive care. “We should be much more liberal and loud in holding conversations about risk quantification and risk reduction, and this statement is a resounding effort toward identifying and mitigating long-term cardiovascular risk, even if only through promoting a healthier lifestyle in those deemed at risk,” she added.

The statement received no outside funding. Lead author Dr. Maas had no financial conflicts to disclose. Dr. El Khoudary had no financial conflicts to disclose. Dr. Pal had no relevant financial conflicts to disclose.


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