A person holds a red, heart-shaped object.
Work with a care team to reduce your cardiovascular disease risks. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

For many women, cardiovascular disease is personal because they have lost their mom or sister to a heart attack or stroke.

They get how heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, and that too many women are robbed of happy years with family and friends. They have experienced firsthand a loss that could have been prevented.

Women’s heart disease is more common than thought, and especially increases after menopause if women do not take estrogen medication.

There are other risk factors, which include belly fat, pre-diabetes or diabetes, lack of exercise, sleep deprivation, and a diet high in processed foods, unhealthy carbohydrates and saturated fats.

Prevention of heart attacks and strokes is possible, but has to start with a goal and a plan.

Once a woman decides to not have heart disease, or if she survives a heart attack and wants to prevent another, she needs a team. On that team, at minimum, should be a preventive cardiologist and a certified menopause specialist. This team will put the patient in the middle, and partner with her to help her achieve her wellness goals.

An example of how such a team collaborates might be best told by a patient I’ll call Laura.

Laura came to see our menopause specialists because her hot flashes would not go away and interfered with her life.

She had been told hormones might not be safe because she was overweight, had high cholesterol and took blood pressure medication. Her family had a history of cardiovascular disease and her loved ones had suffered heart attacks.

Her biggest concern? To not have a heart attack herself. She was also desperate to get the hot flashes to stop.

As menopause specialists, the first thing we do after understanding a woman’s story and risk factors is to consider treatment options.

We always start with the SEEDS and Laura definitely had room for improvement in this area. She realized she needed to drink more water, cut the sugar, and get more restful hours of sleep each night.

These lifestyle habits alone could significantly ease her symptoms, but since she was only two years out from her last period, we also had the option of considering hormones. We know that FDA-approved hormone medications used the correct way can actually help reduce risk factors for heart disease and could definitely help her feel better.

In reviewing her history, I saw she had enough risk factors that I wanted the opinion of preventive cardiologist Thomas Boyden, MD. After an evaluation, testing and suggestions for how to prevent heart disease, Laura was cleared to proceed with our treatment plan.

The end result? Laura felt more informed, had the tools to be successful from her care team, and she could start taking hormones because they would be a safe option for her.

Laura now had hope for how she could age differently than her relatives.