“Boom Bang A Bang!” sang a love-struck Lulu, but we think this song could just as easily be about perimenopausal heartbeat irregularities and palpitations. And while they’re generally harmless, this is a good time to think about your heart health.
Depleting oestrogen levels in perimenopause affect blood pressure, change heart rhythms, and can raise your heart rate (by between 8 to 16 beats per minute). Your heart feels like it’s pounding, fluttering or missing a beat and this may last a few seconds or several minutes. Experiencing this for the first time can be pretty scary but it’s usually harmless. Palpitations can happen together with those other menopause favourites hot flushes, night sweats and anxiety!
And the good news is… Medically harmless heart palpitations should stop post menopause. Stress related palpitations should also ease once your doctor has ruled out anything more serious.
The best ways to keep a healthy heart during menopause Raised blood pressure and cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease. These risks can be reduced with simple diet and lifestyle changes.
What to eat to help with heart concerns
Food choices are crucial for a healthy heart. Out go refined carbs, and saturated fats; in come good fats, lean protein and fibre-rich fruits and vegetables to stave off the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Oily fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids: Try to eat fish at least twice a week. SMASH is the way to go – eat salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring.
High fibre foods, apples, green leafy vegetables, including spinach, kale, chard, broccoli & sweet potatoes. Also legumes; peas, pulses and beans.
Berries full of fibre and antioxidants, may help lower blood sugar.
Lean protein: chicken and turkey breast, eggs.
Nuts, seeds, whole grains & oats: slow energy-release foods help stabilise blood sugar and are a good source of magnesium. Nuts contain compounds which help maintain artery walls.
Milled linseed: full of protein, fibre and healthy fats.
Magnesium: helps heart function, eat more: spinach, avocados, almonds, halibut.
What to avoid to help with heart concerns
Skip those stimulants Eliminate or reduce your intake of stimulants including nicotine, coffee, or caffeine based drinks to reduce the number of palpitations. Be careful about using over-the-counter decongestants for colds as they may also cause problems.
Stay within alcohol limits Drinking more than the recommended 14 units in a week, raises the risk of heart disease. Alcohol damages the heart muscle and this can cause palpitations.
Put that cigarette out Reduce your chances of developing heart disease by stopping smoking. Women are twice as likely to have a heart attack if they smoke.
Bust some stress It’s a catch 22 but worrying about a pounding heart may cause stress, and stress contributes to irregular heartbeat. Find your own way of managing your stress through exercise, yoga or a hobby.
Lifestyle & wellbeing to help with heart concerns
Exercise for your heart 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week lowers the risk of heart disease for women. Swim, walk, run or go to the gym. Other options are table tennis, skipping, hula hooping, or you could even try boxing!
Manage your weight As hormones fluctuate, metabolism slows, causing weight gain, which puts more stress on the heart, increasing palpitations and the risk of heart disease.
The wonders of water Drink plenty of cold water, or herbal teas, such as chamomile. Splashing your face with cold water in the throes of a pounding heart, will help slow it down.
Sleeping is good for your heart The less sleep we have the more prone to anxiety we become. So prioritise sleep so you are better equipped to deal with a racing heartbeat.
Stop, rest and breathe deeply If your heart starts to race, stop what you’re doing and sit down. Breathe in deeply, through your nose and breath out through your mouth. Repeat this for 5 minutes and your normal heart rate should resume.
Long term relaxation benefits
Try some deep breathing exercises to help control your heart rate. Practice this simple breathing exercise or check out Yoga with Annie - Relaxation & Breathing Exercise
Lie down on your back in a quiet space and relax your body.
Close your eyes, or (even better) put a folded flannel over them & rest your hands on your tummy. Slowly inhale through your nose and fill your lower chest first, feel the breath slowly bubbling up to the top part of your chest and lungs next. Focus on your abdomen expanding with each breath.
Hold your breath for a count of 5, gently relax, breath out through your mouth.
Relax, take a couple of normal breaths for 5 to 10 seconds, repeat.
Learn how to take your pulse
Your resting heart rate is between 60-100 beats per minute. Knowing your pulse rate will help you to recognise when your heartbeat is fast.
NHS Choices say you can check your pulse by counting how many times your heart beats in a minute. To find your resting heart rate: sit quietly for five minutes; lightly press your index and middle finger on the inside of your opposite wrist just below your thumb; count the number of beats for a minute, or 30 seconds and multiply by 2. You can also check if your pulse is regular or irregular by feeling its rhythm for about 20-30 seconds.
Supplements worth trying for heart concerns
Magnesium* can be taken as capsules or in powder form. Talk to your doctor before taking in large amounts as it can be toxic.
Hawthorn berries may help to regulate your palpitations, taken as a tincture or in capsules, as recommended by our Hot Flush herbalist G Baldwin & Co.
Valerian: helps deal with stress, which may add to the risk of irregular heartbeat.
The 2015 NICE guidelines emphasise that the different strengths of over-the-counter brands and preparations can impact on the effectiveness of prescription drugs. If you have any underlying health issues, talk to your doctor about supplements.
When to see your doctor about heart concerns
To rule out any more serious cause see your doctor if you’re regularly experiencing palpitations or shortness of breath, chest discomfort or dizziness.
A 2009 statement by the International Menopause Society acknowledged, ‘Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women in the western world’. So ask your doctor about a NHS Health Check to assess your risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes – you will also be given personalised prevention advice.
And then there’s always HRT...
Hormonal imbalance may be the cause of palpitations. For those able to take HRT, be aware that you may initially experience an increase in the number of heart palpitations before hormones balance.