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    Mayo Clinic Minute: Women, estrogen and heart disease

Men and women have an increased risk of heart attack as they age. But women who have gone through menopause, no matter their age, are at increased risk.

Dr. DeLisa Fairweather, a Mayo Clinic cardiovascular disease researcher, points to decreasing levels of estrogen as the cause.

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After menopause, women should pay close attention to their heart health.

"Estrogen is providing an incredibly protective effect against heart disease for women, which is really why the risks only go up for women, in most cases, after menopause and later in life," says Dr. Fairweather.

Dr. Fairweather says estrogen helps protect against heart attack by preventing inflammation that contributes to the buildup of plaque in coronary arteries. But after menopause, when estrogen levels plummet things change.

"The way the plaque looks changes and the increase chance that it can rupture changes, and basically the woman looks, from an immune standpoint, more like a male," says Dr. Fairweather.

Men have a higher risk of heart attack than premenopausal women. So what should postmenopausal women do to stay heart-healthy?

"Be really vigilant of risk factors," says Dr. Fairweather.

Watch your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, maintain a healthy weight, eat a heart-healthy diet, exercise regularly and don't smoke.