Experts have known for years that a woman’s risk of developing heart problems increases after menopause, but they weren’t exactly sure why. It wasn’t clear whether the higher risk was due to the hormonal changes associated with menopause, to aging itself, or to some combination of the two.
This seems to be true of all women, regardless of ethnicity, according to the study, published in the December issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
“As they approach menopause, many women show a very striking increase in cholesterol levels, which in turn increases risk for later heart disease,” says the lead author of the study, Karen A. Matthews, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh.
Over a 10-year period, Matthews and her colleagues followed 1,054 U.S. women as they went through menopause. Each year the researchers tested study participants for cholesterol, blood pressure, and other heart disease risk factors such as blood glucose and insulin.
It has been known that women’s risk for cardiovascular problems increases after menopause. “Our study has been checking many different things in relation to menopause and cardiovascular risk,” Matthews said. “The primary result is an increase in total cholesterol, due to an increase in LDL cholesterol as well as in apolipoprotein B, the protein carrier for LDL cholesterol.”
The lesson she draws from the finding is that women should pay more attention to lifestyle factors associated with cardiovascular risk as menopause approaches and occurs. “They should lose weight and keep it off and increase their physical activity,” Matthews said. “Smokers should stop smoking.”