Menopause is a change of life for women that can cause a myriad of symptoms and discomfort. However, beyond the disruptive nature of the symptoms that come along with it, there are several health issues that a menopausal woman should be aware of. One of the pressing issues of menopause is the occurrence of an irregular heart beat, also known as tachycardia.
Tachycardia occurs when the heart beats much more rapidly than normal. The primary reason the heart begins to beat irregularly during menopause is the abrupt change in estrogen levels in a woman’s body. Hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings and anxiety are all common menopausal symptoms that can cause tachycardia. While tachycardia is treatable, it should be closely monitored throughout menopause, especially if health issues begin to flair.
What the Heart Does
The human heart generates its own electrical signal, also called an electrical pulse. Each pulse leads to one heartbeat, so the number of pulses determines the heart rate. As soon as the pulse spreads across the heart, the heart muscle the heart works correctly.
The pulse is produced by the heart’s natural pacemaker, also known as the sinoatrial node or sinus node. The sinus node sets the rate of contraction for the heart, as well as generates nerve produces electrical impulses that set the rate of the heartbeat. This electrical impulse spreads across the right atrium and left atrium, causing both atria to contract and push their bloods in the right and left ventricles. The electric impulse reaches the atrioventricular node, the part of the electrical control system of that heart that coordinates heart rate. From there, the electric impulse travels to the ventricles, where it causes contraction. This contraction forces blood out of the heart to the body and lungs, signaling for the semilunar valves to close.
Symptoms of Irregular Heartbeat
- Heart fluttering
- A sense that the heart has skipped through a beat
- A pounding pulse in the chest or throat
- Enhanced awareness of the heartbeat
- An increased pulse rate
- A continuous rapid heartbeat
- Skipping beats
- Shortness of breath
- Discomfort in the chest
- Sudden feelings of panic and anxiety
- Chest pain
- Heart fluttering
- Pounding pulse in the chest or throat
Understanding the Heartbeat
There are several cardiovascular terms that will need to be understood to properly comprehend what is going on with an irregular heartbeat.
- Pulse – The blood from each heart contraction produces a rhythmic expansion and contraction in the artery
- Tachycardia – An irregular or rapid heartbeat that is measured at being over one hundred beats per minute
- Bradycardia – An unusually slow and abnormal heartbeat under 60 beats per minute
- Extrasystole – An irregularity of the pulse or heart rhythm involving extra or skipped beats of the heart
- Arrhythmia – A disorder of the pulse or heart rhythm
- Enhanced Cardiac Awareness - When the heart feels like it is pounding, but the pulse is normal
How to Measure Pulse
To take a pulse, hold the wrist with only your index and middle finger pressing gently on the inside of the wrist. Wait until you feel the pulse pulsating and then count the number of pulses you feel for one entire minute.
What is a Normal Heartbeat
For most people, the average heart rate is 60 to 100 BPM. But, for those who have certain medications or engage in strenuous physical activity, normal heart rates can be around 55 BPM.
General Standard of Pulse Rate
- Pulse Rate < 40 BMP – A below healthy resting heart rate
- Pulse Rate 40-60 BPM – Resting heart rate for sleeping
- Pulse Rate 60-100 BPM – Healthy resting heart rate for adults
- Pulse Rate 100 BPM – 220 BPM – Only acceptable if measured during physical activity. Not acceptable if resting heart rate
- Pulse Rate > 220 BPM – An abnormally high heart rate
Causes of Irregular Heartbeat
During the time a woman is undergoing menopause, the most common cause of an irregular heartbeat will be caused by the fluctuations in the levels of estrogen in the body. However, despite this being the primary cause of irregular heartbeat other medical conditions can cause or exacerbate these occurrences.
In pre-menopausal women, there is a much lower incidence of irregular heartbeat when compared with people of a similar age. This includes men, as well as perimenopausal and post-menopausal females. Due to recent advances in medicine, experts have begun to truly understand the role of estrogen in cardiovascular function. When a woman begins to approach the time of menopause, the level of estrogen generated by her endocrine system fluctuates and will eventually decline. This can have an incredibly significant effect on her entire cardiovascular system.
Research has shown that estrogen is directly correlated to the plasma levels of high and low density lipoproteins, as well as the widening and inhibiting constriction of coronary arteries. It is linked to modulating the autonomic nervous system, which works to regulate the heartbeat. So it comes to no surprise that menopausal women experience symptoms of irregular heartbeat when their hormones are out of whack. The various reasons that estrogen levels can affect the cardiovascular system by over stimulation of the sympathetic autonomic nervous system. This can cause any number of effects, but an irregular heartbeat and palpitations are the most common.
There are many medical causes that might bring about irregular heartbeat outside of or during menopause. Several of the most common of these causes are:
- Overactive thyroid
- Heart disease
- Low oxygen levels
- Heart arrhythmia
- Coronary artery disease
Beyond hormonal and medical causes there can be several other reasons for an irregular heart beat or palpitations. These causes include anxiety, exercise, caffeine, dietary supplements, and recreational drugs such as cocaine, nicotine, and stress. Each of these is more than capable of changing the beating rhythm of the heart.
When to Call a Doctor
While an irregular heartbeat is a common occurrence during menopause, there are times when this can be an underlying symptom of a much greater medical issue. It is advised to call a doctor if an irregular heartbeat is experienced in conjunction with other symptoms. For instance, a woman who experiences an irregular heartbeat that coincides with loss of consciousness, chest pain, unexplained sweating, shortness of breath or dizziness should immediately seek out medical attention. Should the individual have a pulse over one hundred beats per minutes in absence of fever, hard exercise or anxiety, than it is advised to consult a doctor immediately.
Medical experts also cite a few other reasons to contact a doctor immediately. These reasons range from a new or different experience in regards to heart palpitations, extra beats over six per minute pr in clusters of three or more, or if the factors for a risk of heart disease are evident such as diabetes and high cholesterol. It is also suggested that any woman who experiences this for the first time should speak to a medical professional so that serious conditions can be ruled out. If you notice unusual swelling in your feet and legs or a weight gain of greater than 5 pounds in one week, it is advised to call your doctor.
Managing Your Irregular Heartbeat
If a woman makes a few essential adjustments to her lifestyle, it can greatly reduce the incidence or intensity of her menopausal irregular heartbeat. However, these changes do not affect the root cause of their hormonal imbalance. It should also be noted that some women will find that they simply do not have the luxury of time that it takes to change their lifestyle in many major ways. It is quite fortunate that there are effective, non-invasive methods for treating an irregular heartbeat during menopause.
Should natural therapies such as herbal remedies and similar items prove to be ineffective or less effective than desired there is also the option of medical aid. While a combination of natural therapy and lifestyle changes will normally make the situation quite easy to deal with sometimes prescription medication is all that can help. Contact your physician for a proper plan of action in this regard.
Daily Lifestyle Changes
- Quit Smoking – Smoking can cause irregular heart rates, as well as increase the chance of developing heart vessel damage.
- Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine – Because of their nature to cause palpitations, avoid both alcohol and caffeine until your heartbeat is normalized
- Exercise – Any light physical activity that will increase your physical exertion can make a difference in your irregular heartbeats because it could help you lose weight, as well as promote the flow of oxygen in your lungs and blood.
- Stress Reduction and Relaxation – Relaxation exercises, breathing exercises, massage, hypnosis, yoga and visualization techniques are all wonderful ways to help deal with stress and minimize the effects of stress on your body during menopause.
- Avoid Stimulants – Stimulants found in cold and cough medicines contain ingredients that promote irregular heart rhythms.
- Stay hydrated – One of the most important diet changes to prevent irregular heartbeats is to drink at least eight glasses of water a day.
- Phytoestrogens – Adopt a dietary plan that includes foods that contain phytoestrogens. These plant estrogens bind to estrogen receptors in your body and can alleviate irregular heartbeats. Soy, tofu, beans, legumes, seaweed, potatoes, apples and carrots are all wonderful sources of phytoestrogens.
- Replenishing Your Diet – Eating more calcium-rich foods, magnesium-rich foods and Vitamin E-foods, like green vegetables, nuts and almonds, are other easily adaptable diet changes to help prevent and treat irregular heartbeats
- Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids – Eat oily fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna that are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Diets high in fish oil help reduce the likelihood of heart arrhythmia.
- Vitamins - Potassium deficiencies can weaken your heart. While the amount of potassium depends on your blood levels, the recommended daily value for potassium is 3,500 mg. Magnesium prevent arrhythmia and reduces the incidence of death from ventricular arrhythmia by a large percentage. The coenzyme Q10 (coQ10) helps reduce the stiffness of the heart muscle. Vitamin E not only restores normal heart rhythm, but it also increases myocardial resistance.
- Alternative Medicine – Chinese medicine (acupuncture) has been a long standing treatment for headaches around the world. Acupuncture is a medical treatment involving the insertion of sharp sterile needles into the body at specific points according to a mapping of “energy pathways.” Acupuncture in particular has produced outstanding results in pain management for many women.
- Black Cohosh One of the most commonly used herbal remedies is Black Cohosh, a perennial plant that is a member of the buttercup family. It provides powerful phytoestrogens that mimic the hormone’s effects and bind to hormone receptors in the uterus and other parts of the body, alleviating hot flashes. Black Cohosh is also known to relieve hot flashes efficiently and is a good alternative to HRT. It is also used effectively for treating PMS, arthritis and lowering blood pressure. Red Clover, Dong Quai, Ginseng, Kava and evening primrose oil can be used as natural therapies, although there are some risks involved. Herbal supplements are not as closely regulated as prescription drugs and the amount of the herbal product, quality and safety may vary between brands.
- Herbal Remedies – Golden Root is known to alleviate arrhythmias, while Korean Ginseng normalizes heartbeat. Some of the most common phytoestrogen herbs are Saint Johns Wort, Black Cohosh and Dong Quai – all which contain estrogenic components produced by plants and replace some of the missing estrogen hormones experienced as a result of menopause. Although these herbs are known to maintain the balance of key neurotransmitters in the brain, they can also make your body less responsive to producing its own hormones, causing a further decrease of one’s hormone levels. Non-estrogenic herbs are known to nourish one’s hormonal glands into producing its own natural hormones. By stimulating one’s own hormone production, non-estrogenic herbs, such as Macafem. Macafem is grown in the Andes of Peru and has achieved great success in naturally increasing one’s hormone levels.
- Anticoagulants– Anticoagulants prevent your blood from clotting. An example of an anticoagulant is Coumadin and Lovenox.
- ACE Inhibitors – ACE inhibitors work by dilating or opening your arteries. They lower blood pressure and improve blood flow. Some examples are Vasotec, Monopril and Zestril.
- Beta-blockers – Beta-blockers can be used to slow down one’s heart rate and improve blood flow. Examples are Lopressor and Tenormin.
- Hormone Replacement Therapy – For more severe cases of irregular heart beats, women may seek surgical or pharmaceutical treatments, although it is important to keep in mind that there are many studies showing hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increases a woman’s risk of elevated blood pressure, endometrial and breast cancers, strokes, blood clots and gallbladder disease. It is advised to speak with your doctor or healthcare professional regarding the negative side effects before you begin treatment.