Cardiovascular disease, and particularly coronary heart disease (CHD), has a low incidence in premenopausal women. Loss of ovarian hormones during the perimenopause and menopause leads to a sharp increase in incidence. Although most CHD risk factors are common to both men and women, the menopause is a unique additional risk factor for women. Sex steroids have profound effects on many CHD risk factors. Their loss leads to adverse changes in lipids and lipoproteins, with increases being seen in low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides, and decreases in high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. There is a reduction in insulin secretion and elimination, but increases in insulin resistance eventually result in increasing circulating insulin levels. There are changes in body fat distribution with accumulation in central and visceral fat which links to the other adverse metabolic changes. There is an increase in the incidence of hypertension and of type 2 diabetes mellitus, both major risk factors for CHD. Oestrogens have potent effects on blood vessels and their loss leads to dysfunction of the vascular endothelium. All of these changes result from loss of ovarian function contributing to the increased development of CHD. Risk factor assessment in perimenopausal women is recommended, thereby permitting the timely introduction of lifestyle, hormonal and therapeutic interventions to modify or reverse these adverse changes.
Keywords: Perimenopause, coronary heart disease, metabolic risk factors, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, vascular function.
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