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Menopause and the Heart

Menopause is the term given to the stage of life during which a woman no longer gets her menstrual period. Your body has a finite number of eggs in your ovaries and, eventually, no more eggs will be released from your ovaries for fertilization. As you age, the female hormones that regulate your ovulation and menstruation begin to decline. Both estrogen and progesterone are responsible for signaling to your body when it is time to ovulate and menstruate. As these hormones decline, your ovulation and menstruation will become irregular, eventually stopping altogether. When you no longer get your period you have entered the menopausal phase of your life.

Menopause occurs at a different time in every woman. Most women stop menstruating completely between the ages of 50 and 51, however the whole menopausal process can last a number of years.

Usually, the body regulates menopause; this is called natural menopause. Some women enter menopause due to other reasons, though. Surgery and certain medications or treatments can force a woman's body to enter menopause. Menopause after hysterectomies, radiation treatment, and chemotherapy has been known to occur. These treatments are also commonly responsible for menopause in younger women, or Premature Menopause (menopause before age 40). Damage to the ovaries or low levels of estrogen can also initiate early menopause.

Stages of Menopause

Menopause occurs in three major stages. The whole process of menopause can take 15 years or longer, depending on your age and family history.

Perimenopause: is typically the first stage of menopause and can last upto five years. During this stage, the menstrual periods and ovulation become irregular and spottings due to fluctuating hormone levels in the body are seen. Although it is still possible to get pregnant during perimenopause as eggs may be released from your ovaries, however this is less likely. Fluctuating hormone levels will probably cause some menopause symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, and irritability.

Menopause: The second stage of menopause occurs when your period no longer arrives. This stage usually occurs around the age of 50 or 51. In order to be in menopause, your period must be absent for at least 12 consecutive months. Gradually, your estrogen levels will decline and your body will stop producing progesterone. Signs of menopause and symptoms of this hormone decline include hot flashes, headaches, and mood swings.

Postmenopause: This is the final stage of menopause. Your menopause symptoms should begin to decrease during this time, freeing you of hot flashes and night sweats. However, you are at an increased risk for developing osteoporosis, heart disease, and urinary tract infections during this time.

Menopause and Heart Disease

More than half of all women over 50 will die from heart disease. In the past decade, more research has been done in order to find out why so many women in this age group are suffering from the disease. It appears that menopause is one of the foremost indicators in causing heart disease.

Estrogen, the female sex hormone, governs your cycle of ovulation and menstruation. However, it also seems to fulfill other purposes in your body. Estrogen works to protect your heart during your childbearing years by controlling the amount of fat, called lipids, in your body. Lipids make up the cholesterol in your bloodstream and estrogen helps to combat the buildup of unhealthy cholesterol.

Cholesterol consists of two ingredients: HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) and LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol). It appears that estrogen helps to increase the amount of HDL in your bloodstream and reduce the amount of LDL in your body. This prevents the arteries from building up fatty deposits and allows your blood to flow more easily through your heart.

During and after menopause, your body stops producing estrogen. As a result, the amount of LDL in your bloodstream increases, preventing the good cholesterol from doing its job. Unfortunately, cholesterol and heart disease are intricately linked. High LDL can result in the thickening of the arteries and an increase in blood pressure. Reduced amounts of estrogen can also increase the number of blood clotters, called fibrogens, in your body. This too can clog your arteries, impairing your heart's ability to pump.
Natural menopause appears to have less of an impact on your heart; as your estrogen levels decrease slowly. Therefore, your risk for heart disease and stroke increase slowly. However, women who go through menopause due to medical treatments tend to increase their risk of heart disease much more quickly. This is mainly due to the fact that your estrogen levels drop suddenly.

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