Hypertension symptoms mistaken for menopause in middle aged women

A new study shows that middle aged women with undiagnosed hypertension are likely to miss out on needed treatment because their symptoms are often ascribed to menopause.

The research conducted by a group of specialists and published in the European Heart Journalshows that middle aged women who show visible signs of hypertension such as chest pain, exhaustion, headaches, heart palpitations and sleep disturbances are often diagnosed with menopause.

This, the researchers say puts them at risk of developing cardiovascular conditions such as heart attacks and strokes.

The European specialists—cardiologists, gynaecologists and endocrinologists—who wrote this paper say this happens because doctors tend to focus on signs that are common in men and not so much in women with the same symptoms.

A lead author of the paper which was published early this year, Angela Maas, MD, PhD explains what they found to be the reason for this misdiagnosis:

Menopausal symptoms include night sweats, hot flashes, fast or irregular heartbeat, and even chest pain. This can be difficult to distinguish from cardiac symptoms related to coronary spasm; an experienced cardiologist should know this.

Risks of heart problems during menopause

On average, women reach menopause at the age of 51—but could be as early as 45 for some and as late as 55 for others—marking the end of fertility.

Declining estrogen levels which are typical during menopause can lead to weight gain around the midsection and a reduction in the body’s ability to convert blood sugars into energy.

According to the research, this often results in high blood pressure which is a causal factor of many cardiovascular diseases.

Women who exhibit severe symptoms of menopause (hot flashes and night sweats) are 50 % more prone to develop a condition that might hide the symptoms of hypertension but which could still increase the risk of heart attacks and other heart-related diseases, according to the paper.

Dr Stephanie Faubion, director of the Mayo Clinic Centre for Women’s Health who was not involved in the research said,

Any symptoms such as palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain, or symptoms with exercise — even decreased exercise tolerance — should be evaluated before assuming they relate to menopause.

Post-menopause healthy lifestyle

Reduced estrogen levels around menopause are linked to bigger appetites and slowed metabolism; two things that can contribute to obesity and its attendant heart-related problems.

The paper is therefore advising women who are just coming out of menopause to take extra precaution in order to stay healthy and reduce these risks. They include;

  • Quitting smoking
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • 150 minutes weekly exercise like brisk walking
  • Ensuring frequent physical movement
  • Healthy eating (more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and less red meat and processed foods
  • Good quality sleep
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