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Common Menopause Symptoms Linked to Higher Risk of Heart Disease

Women who have two specific symptoms that commonly occur while transitioning through menopause may be at increased risk of heart disease and stroke, new research suggests.

In a new study published on February 13 in Menopause, the journal of the Menopause Society, researchers found some concerning links between migraines and hot flashes — two conditions commonly associated with menopause — and cardiovascular disease.

The study's goal was to determine if women with one or both conditions were at greater risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

To conduct the research, the team gathered data from 1,954 women aged 18 to 30 enrolled in the population-based Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. They followed the participants for 15 years to determine how many experienced a cardiovascular event or stroke.

The scientists found that women with a history of migraines and hot flashes may have nearly double the risk of cardiovascular disease and almost three times the risk of stroke.

Specifically, women with a history of both migraine and persistent vasomotor symptoms were 1.5 times as likely to develop heart disease and 1.7 times more likely to have a stroke than women without both conditions. These findings remained after the scientists adjusted for age, race, estrogen use, ovary removal, and hysterectomy.

However, the risk levels weakened after the team adjusted for cardiovascular risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, and fasting glucose levels.

According to the Menopause Society, estimates suggest that nearly 80% of women transitioning through menopause experience hot flashes, and around 17.5% of women experience migraines during their late reproductive years. So, the study's findings could mean many women may be at risk.

In a press release, Dr. Stephanie Faubion, medical director for the Menopause Society, said, "This study highlights the importance of considering female-predominant or female-specific factors such as history of migraine and persistent vasomotor symptoms when assessing cardiovascular risk in women."

Lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke

While the study's findings show an increased risk of heart disease and stroke among women with migraines and hot flashes, there are ways to lower certain risk factors for these cardiovascular conditions.

For example, the CDC says not smoking, eating a heart-healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting enough physical exercise are effective strategies to protect against heart disease and stroke. Having routine cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes screenings can also help a person manage their risk factors.

Experts also suggest that transdermal menopause hormone therapy (MHT), which is delivered through a patch on the skin, may help reduce the risk of heart disease without the stroke risks associated with oral MHT.

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