What to expect after menopause

What does it mean and how will my body change?

Menopause, something all women will go through at some stage of their life. This is a completely naturally occurring phenomenon in women around the age of 45-55. Women undergoing menopause are no longer fertile and they stop experiencing periods. During menopause, women’s ovaries start producing less and less estrogen and these declining levels cause the manifestation of various symptoms. These symptoms usually present in the form of mood swings, hot flashes, and night sweats. Some women can experience premature menopause due to a variety of reasons: surgical removal of ovaries or damage to ovaries such as from chemotherapy.

There are three stages of menopause: perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause. Perimenopause is the initial stage of this process and can start 8-10 years before menopause. Menopause is defined as the period in a women’s life where she has not experienced a period for 12 months. Postmenopause comes after menopause, the final stage. Postmenopause lasts from the point after menopause and is a permanent state. It does not have any physical symptoms.

What happens postmenopause?

During postmenopause, the hormones in the female body do not fluctuate to the same degree as it does leading up to menopause. This means that women do not experience uncomfortable menopausal symptoms. So that means no more hot flashes, mood swings, and night sweats. Phew, that must be a relief. 

Over the years, your estrogen levels are slowly decreasing, and during postmenopause, these estrogen levels stay at an all-time low. They remain at this low level throughout postmenopause. However, these increases the risk of postmenopausal women to certain conditions. Postmenopausal women are in a high-risk group for osteoporosis and heart disease. Osteoporosis is a condition where the bones weaken, as estrogen is liked to bone health. However, these can be managed to an extent through diet and lifestyle changes. 

Big changes 

Osteoporosis 

A condition commonly seen due to the low levels of estrogen which results in bone thinning. Bone density changes are seen years after menopause, mainly in the first several years after periods halt. Women can lose up to 25% of their bone mass after menopause. This makes women more susceptible to fractures due to weakened bones. These fractures are more common in the hips, spine, and wrist. Lifestyle changes can help treat osteoporosis. Taking supplements such as calcium, Vitamin D, and exercising. It is advised to limit alcohol intake and to stop smoking. 

Heart disease

Menopause is not directly linked to heart disease but it does increase its risk. According to the American Heart Association, ? of women will go on to develop heart disease. Heart disease then follows on to increase the risk of women having heart attacks years after menopause. During the hormonal changes experienced during menopause, changes are seen in blood pressure and cholesterol levels. So it is advised to avoid salt as it increases blood pressure and consume more healthy fats such as omega 3 as has nutritional benefits for a healthy heart. 

What are the symptoms?

I did say there were no physical symptoms of postmenopause, and this is true. However, due to the constant low levels of estrogen, there are some symptoms that will continue from menopause. However, some women still have hormonal fluctuations after menopause so they will continue experiencing hot flashes, insomnia, mood swings, and others. 

All women are unique and our bodies undergo different changes. No one women will react the same way to menopause. So you might experience all, one or none of these symptoms.

Vaginal dryness

As no more estrogen is being produced, the vagina and its lips become less elastic which can, in turn, make sex painful and less enjoyable. Subsequently, the vaginal mucus glands produce a smaller amount of mucus which leads to dryness, making sex uncomfortable. Many postmenopausal women use vagina lubricants to help combat this unfortunate symptom. 

Vaginal bleeding

After menopause, postmenopausal women should not be experiencing bleeding. This is a common problem postmenopausal women face due to either inflammation or thickened womb lining, however, if you experience this you should consult your doctor to rule out any other sinister causes behind the bleeding. 

Urinary incontinence

Yes, another unpleasant side effect. Estrogen helps keep the bladder and urethra (a passage that passes urine from the bladder to outside the body). The lowered threshold of estrogen results in bladder issues such as loss of bladder control, due to the weakened pelvic muscles that control the bladder. 

Weight gain

With all the other unwanted side effects, here comes weight gain. Changing levels of estrogen cause the body to respond by increasing fat cells. This happens as the body’s natural mechanism to boost estrogen levels. 

Insomnia

The hormonal changes can result in difficulty sleeping or lack of sleep. This is usually seen in menopause as well, however other symptoms such as hot flashes and lowered libido as less common. As the level of estrogen stabilizes in a women’s body, they will slowly stop experiencing these symptoms, however, some may still notice them for up to 10 years after menopause. 

Staying healthy

Peri-menopause, menopause, and postmenopause are big changes. There are many symptoms women experience, mostly uncomfortable and unpleasant. However, many lifestyle adjustments can be made to mitigate these symptoms. Careful attention should be paid to nutrition and lifestyle. Not only will they impact the hormonal balance in the body but also the body’s overall function and health. 

 

References:

Healthspan, “When Am I Postmenopausal? Signs and Symptoms of Postmenopause.” in Healthspan, <https://www.healthspan.co.uk/advice/when-am-i-postmenopausal-signs-and-symptoms-of-postmenopause> [accessed 9 May 2020].
Healthspan, “When Am I Postmenopausal? Signs and Symptoms of Postmenopause.” in Healthspan, <https://www.healthspan.co.uk/advice/when-am-i-postmenopausal-signs-and-symptoms-of-postmenopause> [accessed 9 May 2020].

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