Perimenopause is the stage of your life before you begin to enter menopause, and may begin between the ages of 35 and 45. You may experience some of the signs and symptoms of menopause, such as menstrual irregularities, hot flashes, heart palpitations and mood changes.
Also during this time period, your risk of developing heart disease begins to rise. Heart disease kills 80 million Americans every year, and is the leading cause of death in women. When you enter perimenopause, you should ask your primary care physician for certain tests, and you may receive a referral to a cardiologist, or heart specialist.
Some of the symptoms of perimenopause may mimic those of heart disease. They include heart palpitations, or skipped beats, and occasional shortness of breath. You should never assume that these symptoms are simply hormonal, however. Since they are similar to those of heart disease, bring them promptly to the attention of your doctor, who can make a referral as necessary.
Other reasons for seeing a cardiologist in your late 30s or 40s include having a family history of heart disease; having risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure or unexplained chest pain; and having already suffered a heart attack or other heart condition that may raise your risk for having another heart attack or developing heart disease.
After seeing a cardiologist, you may need to return for follow-up appointments, or you may be referred back to your primary care physician. He or she will likely give you some lifestyle changes that you can make to reduce your risk of heart disease. These may include changing your diet, losing weight, or exercising more frequently. The general recommendation is that all adults get approximately 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. This adds up to 30 minutes per day, five days per week.
The more you exercise and the more intensely you exercise, the lower your risk for heart disease becomes. If you have any heart conditions or if you are at greater-than-normal risk for heart disease, talk to your cardiologist before beginning a vigorous or intense exercise program.
Some symptoms warrant immediate care, and you should not wait for an appointment with your cardiologist or your primary care physician. These include sudden or intense chest pain; pain with pressure, which may be described as a crushing pain; pain that radiates to your arm, shoulder, neck or jaw; and sudden shortness of breath. After you receive emergency care at your local emergency room, you should be referred to a cardiologist.
Take the opportunity to talk about your risk of developing heart disease to your primary care physician at your next checkup. The years surrounding perimenopause are a good time for you to meet with and become comfortable with a cardiologist for preventative heart health care. Heart problems are easier to prevent than they are to treat, and your future heart health depends on the care you receive now.