What is postmenopause?
There are several health complications associated with postmenopause. To stay healthy in this new phase of life, it’s important to know about these conditions and engage in ways to reduce your risk.
Menopause is a natural stage in a woman’s life. It occurs in middle age when your body stops ovulating, which causes you to stop having monthly menstrual cycles. This shift occurs because of the change of hormones in your body.
Menopause is considered to be a three-stage process:
- Perimenopause refers to the 8-10 years before menopause when your ovaries slowly produce less estrogen.
- Menopause refers to the time when your menstrual periods have stopped for at least a year
- Postmenopause is the stage of life after you have not had a period for 12 months or longer
The average age of menopause for women is 51. You may experience menopause any time in your 40s or 50s, or even in your 60s. The time you go through this change is unique to your body. Generally, menopause is a very normal part of a woman’s life. You may experience menopause prematurely because of surgery, like a hysterectomy, or other factors.
Once you are postmenopausal, your hormone levels will remain at a constant low level. You will no longer be able to become pregnant, and you will not experience monthly menstrual cycles.
You may be at increased risk for the following conditions after menopause:
- cardiovascular disease
- depression and other mental health conditions
- changes in vaginal health, such as vaginal dryness
Adopting healthy lifestyle habits and checking in with your doctor regularly will help you manage your risk factors for these conditions.
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes the thinning of your bones. This change in bone density increases following menopause, particularly in the first several years after your period stops. This is due to the loss of estrogen in your body. You may lose up to 25 percent of your bone density following menopause up to age 60.
Osteoporosis makes you susceptible to bone fractures, particularly in the hips, spine, and wrists.
Treating osteoporosis can be as simple as making lifestyle adjustments:
- consume foods that contain calcium or take calcium supplements
- add vitamin D supplements to your daily routine
- exercise, incorporating both aerobic and strength-building activities into your routine
- limit your alcohol intake
- quit smoking
You may also want to talk to your doctor about medical treatments, like estrogen therapy. Not everyone is a candidate for hormone therapy.
Menopause doesn’t directly cause cardiovascular diseases, but it may increase your risk. The shift in hormones as well as changes to blood pressure, “bad” cholesterol, and triglycerides can also occur following menopause. According to the American Heart Association, one in three women develop cardiovascular disease. There’s an increase in incidence of heart attacks for women 10 years after menopause.
To manage the risk of cardiovascular diseases, adopt healthy behaviors following menopause. This includes maintaining a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and not smoking.
Some women stop experiencing symptoms of menopause once they are postmenopausal. Other women will continue to experience some symptoms.
- You may still experience hot flashes for one to two years following menopause.
- You may notice a shift in your mood and feel depression before, during, and after menopause. Changes in your mental health should be discussed with your doctor.
- You may also experience vaginal dryness that can affect your sexual health as well as cause infections. Using water soluble lubricants can help make intercourse more comfortable. Discuss these changes with your doctor to determine if you need treatment.
Seeing your doctor
Continue to see your doctor once you are postmenopausal. These checkups with your doctor can help you prevent the conditions that may develop after menopause.
Tests and screenings you should expect following menopause include:
- pelvic exams
- pap smears, likely every three years
- other gynecological screenings
- other cancer screenings
- osteoporosis tests, such as bone density scans
If you’re postmenopausal and experience vaginal bleeding, contact your doctor. This may be a sign of a serious health condition.
The postmenopausal years require you to stay on top of your health and wellness. Here are some ways you can maintain your health in this phase of life:
- Eat healthy foods. Incorporate foods that give you a balanced diet. Focus on eating whole foods and avoid excess salts and sugars, which are often in processed foods. You need extra calcium and vitamin D after menopause, so be sure your diet includes them. If not, ask your doctor about supplements.
- Exercise regularly. Make sure you get aerobic exercise and also engage in strength training.
- See your doctor. Annual visits to your doctor help you monitor any changes in your health. You should talk to your doctor if you notice any shifts in your body or if symptoms from the menopause years linger and impact your day-to-day life.
- Cut out bad habits. Don’t smoke, and limit your alcohol consumption.
The risks of certain conditions like osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases rise after menopause. Therefore, it’s important to develop healthy lifestyle habits before and after menopause. You should also continue to visit your doctor for wellness visit appointments. Lifelong attention to calcium, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle reduce your risk.