As you get older, your risk of heart disease and heart attack goes up.
- Women usually get heart disease about 10 years after men typically do. This is because until menopause, the ovaries make the hormone estrogen. Estrogen gives premenopausal women some protection against heart disease.1 Estrogen may help keep blood vessels relaxed and open and help the body maintain a healthy balance of good and bad cholesterol. Without estrogen, cholesterol may start building up on artery walls.
- When you are younger, your arteries have smooth linings and flexible walls that allow blood to flow freely. As you age, the linings get stiff and the walls thicken, which can make it harder for blood to flow and increases blood pressure. This is most often caused by plaque buildup in your arteries, a process called atherosclerosis (ath-UH-roh-skluh-ROH-sis). Atherosclerosis begins in childhood.2 The older you are, the more likely your arteries will be narrowed or blocked enough to cause problems.
Menopausal hormone therapy
Many women take menopausal hormone therapy to help relieve menopause symptoms such as hot flashes. Results from a large study called the Women's Health Initiative showed that women taking menopausal hormone therapy with estrogen plus progesterone had a higher risk for stroke, serious blood clots, heart attacks, and other serious health problems. The risks were found to be much higher for women 60 years and older.
If you decide to use menopausal hormone therapy, talk to your doctor. The Food and Drug Administration advises women who want to try menopausal hormone therapy to use the lowest dose that works for the shortest time needed.
Read more about menopausal symptoms and hormone therapy in our Menopause section.