I recently had a stress test that came back normal. As the cardiologist read my normal EKG, I mentioned I’d been feeling a little sluggish and noticed people seemed to be walking faster and further than me. I give my doctor credit for asking and listening to me rather than dismissing what I said. My answer led to further exams that may have saved my life. I'd never connected menopause and estrogen to my heart health, but I now see how they are related for me.
As part of my internist’s routine preventative strategy, I’d been sent to see a cardiologist for a checkup and to monitor my cholesterol levels. When it comes to my health and wellness, I don't keep my mouth closed. When I meet with my healthcare professionals, I make the most of the appointments by sharing what is going on with me. I don't relate to doctors who tell me, “You are doing fine for your age.”
Because I spoke up for myself during my recent visit, the cardiologist sent me for an MRI that caught “something” that would not have been discovered without chest pains, a tingling in the arm, weird jaw pain, or palpitations. I didn't have any of these symptoms, but they are associated with heart disease in women.
I share my story as a cautionary tale. I came out of this with a stent. In recovery, I wondered if a loss of estrogen could have contributed to heart disease and my current challenges.
I did some research and found, the connection between estrogen and heart health is not a straight line. It is accepted that estrogen protects our heart. That is why men tend to have cardiovascular concerns earlier than women. After menopause, there is a rise in cardiovascular disease among women. My reading says “while menopause doesn’t cause cardiovascular disease, one’s risk factors increase around menopause.” And that there is an increase in cardiovascular disease about 10 years after the end of menopause.
Estrogen has a positive effect on the inner layer of the artery wall, helping to keep blood vessels flexible. A decline in estrogen may factor in heart disease and increase the chances among post-menopausal women. Estrogen also regulates cholesterol production in the liver, protecting the heart and arteries.
Twenty years ago medical professionals believed Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease. There has been extensive debate about this and regardless of where doctors may stand on the issue, both sides agree that estrogen is the primary communicator for our neurological receptors.
Being an active participant in my care helped my doctor help me. I will forever be thankful he listened to me. Why should I soldier on feeling just okay when it is possible to feel better?
I am glad I listened to my body. If I can offer any advice, listening to your body, be involved in how it is changing, and talk to your physician as you notice changes. Tests are helpful but we are our own gold standard when it comes to our body.
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