What’s the best thing about the postmenopause years? The answer differs depending on the woman, but “no more periods and cramps” is among the top choices. “Good-bye hot flashes” and “it’s the end of PMS” are popular ones as well. Postmenopause also comes with some challenges, so let’s take a look at what this phase of a woman’s life is all about.
What is postmenopause?
Postmenopause is the term used to describe the period of time after women have not had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months. While hormone levels go through changes during menopause, they remain at a constantly low level during the years menstruation has ceased completely. It’s also the end of a woman’s reproductive years.
What age does postmenopause begin?
Postmenopause begins after a woman has not had a period for 12 consecutive months. Therefore, the age at which postmenopause begins depends on when a woman ends menopause, which can range from the 40s to late 50s or even early 60s.
What are the symptoms of postmenopause?
During the early part of postmenopause, some women continue to experience symptoms they had during menopause, such as hot flashes, breast tenderness, and insomnia. Menopausal symptoms may stick around for several months or even years. Other women, however, bid adieu to the challenges of menopause; everyone’s experience is different.
Symptoms that are more often associated with postmenopause include:
- Stress urinary incontinence, which may affect about 40 percent of postmenopausal women. Low estrogen leads to a weakening of the muscles that control the bladder, which in turn can result in loss of bladder control when exercising, laughing, coughing, or sneezing.
- Vaginal itching or dryness, which is due to the reduction in estrogen levels and the thinning of the vaginal walls
- Vaginal discharge, which is usually associated with vaginal dryness and itching
- Weight gain, which can be just a few pounds but frequently is 10 or more
Because of the consistently low level of estrogen associated with postmenopause, women are at an increased risk of certain health conditions, all of which deserve your attention so you can make lifestyle changes to help reduce your exposure. Those conditions and precautions include the following:
Osteoporosis: Thinning of the bones increases after women go through menopause, especially during the first few years after menstruation stops. In fact, you can lose up to 25 percent of your bone density following menopause up to age 60. You can help reduce that risk by eating foods that are rich in calcium (e.g., amaranth, beans, figs, leafy greens, sardines, tofu), take vitamin D supplements, exercise daily, and limit your intake of alcohol.
Heart disease. The changes in hormones can cause shifts in your blood pressure as well as affect levels of bad cholesterol and triglycerides. For example, estrogen helps regulate blood flow. Since levels of this hormone decline dramatically, the risk of heart disease increases postmenopause. Safeguard yourself by adopting a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, getting adequate sleep, and limiting alcohol consumption.
Urinary tract changes. When estrogen levels drop significantly, it can cause the lining of the urethra to become very thin. In addition, the pelvic muscles that surround the urethra may weaken. These factors can increase the chances of experiencing bladder leakage, urinary tract infections, and other urinary problems.
Vaginal health changes. Many postmenopausal women report having a fabulous sex life during postmenopause, and that experience can be challenged by thinning of the vaginal walls. This occurs as estrogen levels decline, as the hormone helps keep the vaginal walls naturally lubricated. Therefore, vaginal dryness, vaginal tissue atrophy, and an increased risk of vaginal infections can result. Use of water-soluble lubricants can help make sexual encounters more comfortable. You also should stay well hydrated and avoid use of douches and any type of perfumed soaps, lubricants, or spermicides.
Depression and other mental health challenges. Bouts of depression, mood swings, and anxiety can occur during postmenopausal years. These mental health challenges are the result of hormone fluctuations and other symptoms they can cause, such as problems with sleep, lack of motivation and energy, and problems with concentration. All of these can contribute to depression.
Metabolism changes. Lower estrogen levels also can lower your metabolic rate, which in turn can cause your body to store fat instead of burning it. However, since postmenopause is also associated with reduced physical activity, you can help offset weight gain by boosting your exercise.
Is there a test to confirm I’m in postmenopause?
When women transition into postmenopause, levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) rise significantly. This indicates that the ovaries are beginning to cease functioning. Your doctor can do a simple blood test to verify your levels of FSH and that postmenopause has arrived!