What's to know about heart palpitations and menopause?
Some may view it as a significant milestone, equating to the end of childbearing years. Others may worry about well-known symptoms, such as hot flashes and night sweats.
Other common symptoms may include vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex, difficulty sleeping, low mood or anxiety, reduced sex drive, and problems with memory and concentration.
Heart palpitations are not talked about so widely and are likely to take many menopausal women by surprise. They can occur because of hormone changes during periods, pregnancy, and the menopause and are often temporary.
What are heart palpitations?
The heart may flutter, race, or beat irregularly during a heart palpitation, and this is a common symptom of perimenopause.
Heart palpitations are also called irregular heartbeats or arrhythmia. These are heartbeats that are suddenly more noticeable than regular heartbeats.
During a palpitation, the heart may pound, flutter, race, or beat irregularly. Palpitations are often short-lived, lasting just a few seconds or, at worse, a few minutes.
Palpitations may seem alarming, but they are often harmless and do not signal a serious problem, necessarily. However, people should still see a doctor if they occur.
Causes of menopause heart palpitations
A woman who sometimes feels her heart racing or missing a beat could have menopause heart palpitations. This is a common symptom of perimenopause.
Perimenopause is the time before the menopause, which, in turn, is when a woman has not had a period for 12 months. Afterward, women are said to be in the postmenopause phase.
Heart palpitations are a direct result of lower levels of the female hormone estrogen, which leads to an overstimulation of the heart.
Such a drop in hormone production can be linked to an increase in both heart rate and frequency in palpitations, and non-threatening arrhythmias.
When to see a doctor
While such palpitations are usually harmless, they should not be ignored.
A woman experiencing palpitations is strongly advised to consult a doctor for a diagnosis, and to rule out any abnormalities.
Doctors will particularly want to investigate if the palpitations are linked to a shortness of breath, dizziness, or chest discomfort.
Menopause heart palpitations can increase heart rates by 8 to 16 beats per minute. Some women, however, have reported much bigger increases, with their heart rates reaching up to 200 beats per minute.
Menopausal women who experience irregular heartbeat are often treated using natural methods. When the problems are caused by reduced levels of estrogen, the treatment can involve lifestyle changes and natural remedies combined.
A few lifestyle changes may help to cut down the occurrence of menopausal palpitations. They include:
- reducing caffeine intake by drinking less coffee and other caffeine-heavy drinks
- cutting back or avoiding stimulants, such as cigarettes and alcohol
- practicing relaxation techniques, such as yoga, mindfulness, and breathing exercises
Heart disease risk and menopause
The benefits of HRT may outweigh the risks but it is important to consult with a healthcare professional about HRT as a treatment.
According to the British Heart Foundation (BHF), women, in general, have a lower risk of being affected by coronary heart disease (CHD) before the menopause. Afterward, the risk of CHD increases and continues to rise.
Women experiencing unpleasant symptoms may be prescribed hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help relieve these.
In the past, it was thought that HRT had the added benefit of helping to protect women against CHD. However, more recent research suggests that this is not so.
Also, the BHF maintain that some forms of HRT may slightly increase the risk of CAD and stroke.
It is important to remember, however, that HRT can be highly effective for relieving menopausal symptoms. Indeed, for most menopausal women, especially those below the age of 60, the benefits of HRT outweigh the risks.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution, of course. Every woman is different, which is why it is important to speak to a doctor about whether HRT is appropriate.
Heart disease risk goes up for everyone, as they get older. But for women, there is a marked increase after menopause. Hence, it is vital to do everything possible to keep the heart healthy. Good nutrition has an important part to play here. Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, fish, and poultry are all good. People should also avoid putting on excess weight, as it can add strain to the heart and help push up blood pressure.
However, there is more to keeping healthy than just nutrition and maintaining a healthy weight.
Depression and the heart
Research reported by the North American Menopause Society suggests that a history of depression is another risk factor for coronary artery disease (CAD) and can be based on a woman's age. It showed women under the age of 65 are more likely to develop CAD, owing to depression, than older woman.
A history of depression may be linked to coronary artery disease as a risk factor.
While scientists have yet to discover exactly why depression and heart disease are linked, it is known that depression increases production of stress hormones in the body.
These hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, can make heart rates speed up and blood pressure rise.
People who are depressed can improve their overall health and the health of their heart with treatment. This could be by starting a form of self-coping mechanism, seeking medical therapy, or both.
The National Women's Health Resource Center suggest the following as good coping mechanisms:
- avoid being too hard on oneself
- keep active
- socialize and be with others
- set achievable goals
If a woman is going through perimenopause, and she is experiencing symptoms that involve the heart, these mood-lifting activities may be of use.
Other ideas for lifting one's mood include:
- listening to some favorite music
- being spontaneous
- curling up with a good book
- settling down to watch a comedy or movie on TV
- playing with a pet
Anyone who feels as if they may be depressed should talk immediately with their doctor or other healthcare professional.