Secrets to a healthy heart | New research on women and heart disease


The latest on why their heart attacks go undetected, how they may benefit from half doses of cholesterol drugs, and more

AARP — Doctors have known for years that men and women experience heart disease somewhat differently. It’s long been clear, for instance, that before menopause, women are less likely to develop heart disease than men. This is thanks to the protection estrogen provides, and it’s a key reason why the average age for a heart attack is 64 for men but 72 for women. Women catch up quickly, though, and heart disease is the leading cause of death for both sexes overall. But new research is changing cardiologists’ understanding of heart disease in women. 

Heart risks also increase during perimenopause

New research from the American Heart Association, published in Circulation, shows that the hormonal shifts that occur during perimenopause — the years preceding menopause — set the stage for heart disease. “As women transition, they experience many changes that, when taken together, increase their risk of cardiovascular disease,” says lead researcher Samar R. El Khoudary, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh. During this time, “bad” LDL cholesterol begins to rise; “good” HDL cholesterol may stop being protective; body fat accumulates in the abdomen instead of the hips; and insomnia and depression may occur, she says. El Khoudary suggests seeing perimenopause as a critical time to start lowering heart disease risk with practices like regular exercise and prioritized sleep.

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