What does “postmenopausal” mean?
Menopause symptoms can begin when you’re in your 40s or 50s and duration varies from woman to woman. Most physicians define menopause as not menstruating for one year. Even if you have some bleeding or spotting after that year, you’re still considered menopausal or “postmenopausal,” meaning you’ve passed the one year mark. You should begin some basic screenings around this time.
Mammograms, which screen for breast cancer, have aroused controversy lately. While they can detect small tumors that could later become cancerous, they may also find benign lumps, exposing women to the stress and risks of additional testing. On the other hand, finding cancer early can help save lives. It’s important to talk to your physician about your family history and risk factors when deciding when to begin this screening.
Women over 65 (or younger, if you’re at risk) should be screened for bone mineral density, a measurement which predicts risk for fractures caused by osteoporosis, or thinning of the bones as you age. Eating foods rich in calcium and vitamin D will prevent bone loss, but can’t reverse the disease.
During your annual physical, your doctor should check your blood pressure and cholesterol, two indicators of heart health. Coronary artery disease is a leading cause of death in women and these tests can detect early warning signs of heart problems.
A colonoscopy checks for colon cancer or pre-cancerous polyps, which sometimes form in the intestines. Although few people look forward to them, colonoscopies should be performed starting at age 55 and recurring every five years (if polyps are found or you’re at high-risk) to ten years (if you have a normal colonoscopy and are at low-risk).
Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and not smoking are steps you can take to lower your risk for a variety of illnesses and maintain your health after menopause. For example, diets low in saturated and trans fats help keep cholesterol levels in check, which in turn may prevent heart disease. Fruits and vegetables packed with micronutrients and fiber can help prevent colon cancer. Weight-bearing exercise helps to guard against bone loss and fractures.
Know Your History
Before you visit your physician, know your family history. For an accurate family history, ask your relatives if they’ve ever been diagnosed with a serious or chronic illness, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, bowel problems, breathing difficulties, or ongoing health issues such as arthritis. Information that includes disease type, age of diagnosis, and symptoms can help your physician prioritize your care and ensure that you’re getting the screenings you need without unnecessary stress.