Medical Moment: Menopause & heart disease

Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 5:47 PM EDT
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For some women, menopause is more than annoying hot flashes and mood swings. Newly-published research suggests those who accumulate fat in their abdomen during menopause are at a greater risk of heart disease.

It’s an age-old complaint for many middle-aged women: no matter what they do, extra weight seems to settle in the middle. Scientists say that could be harmful to their heart health.

“We were able to identify the time point at which women start to accumulate the fat in the abdomen in particular, women start to accumulate two years before their final menstrual period,” says Samar R. El Khoudary, a women’s health expert at Pitt Graduate School of Public Health.

The scientists used CT scans to measure the adipose tissue or the fat surrounding the organs in a women’s abdomen. The researchers found the abdominal fat increased by about 8% per year.

“This increase happening during this period in particular, put women at higher risk of developing carotid atherosclerosis,” says El Khoudary.

The researchers also used ultrasounds to measure the thickness of the carotid artery lining in the neck and found for every 20% increase in belly fat, the thickness of the carotid artery grew by 2%, an early indicator of heart disease.

El Khoudary says the earlier women know their risk, the earlier they can adopt lifestyle changes to lower their chances of developing heart disease.

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