After you have gone 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period, you are considered post-menopausal. You may find that many of the unpleasant symptoms you experienced leading up to menopause have dropped become less troublesome or eased off completely. However, because your body is now producing significantly lower levels of estrogen, you may be at an increased risk for several health conditions. Understanding the risks will help you manage them, so that you may enjoy this period of your life.
Lower estrogen levels can lead to bone loss and a condition called osteoporosis, which translates to "porous bones." Osteoporosis occurs when bones lose an excessive amount of protein and mineral content, especially calcium. Over time, bone mass and strength are diminished and the bones become fragile. This loss can be rapid and severe in some women, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, which says that there are two factors that will determine your risk for osteoporosis. The first is the bone density you have when you reach menopause-the greater the density, the lower your risk. The second is how rapidly you lose bone density after menopause. Some women lose as much as 20% bone density in the first five to seven years following menopause. Your personal and family medical histories are good indicators of your chances of developing osteoporosis.
The condition can be detected with a simple bone-density test. Osteoporosis cannot be cured, but it can slowed or stopped. Strength-bearing exercises and a variety of therapies, including medication, are available. Your doctor can discuss what is best for you.
Many studies show that your risk of cardiovascular disease increases drastically after menopause due to the significant drop in estrogen levels. The weight gain associated with perimenopause and post menopause symptoms exacerbates the risk. Excess weight can lead to less physical activity, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. All these are factors that can lead to heart attack and stroke. If you are a smoker or have been exposed to second-hand smoke, your risk is even higher. Here again, lifestyle and personal and family history are key determinants of your risk. Doctors recommend a healthier lifestyle and regular monitoring of blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol.
The hormonal changes after menopause can affect the fluids that coat your vaginal walls and maintain lubrication, elasticity and acidity, all of which are natural defenses against vaginal and urinary tract infections. Reduced estrogen levels are the main cause of vaginal dryness. Estrogen, a female hormone, helps keep vaginal tissue healthy by maintaining normal vaginal lubrication, tissue elasticity and acidity. But when your estrogen levels decrease, so do these natural defenses, leading to a thinner, less elastic and more fragile vaginal lining, and an increased risk of vaginal and urinary tract infections. This is called genitourinary (or vaginal) atrophy. For mild symptoms, over-the-counter lubricants and moisturizers can provide relief. For more severe cases, your doctor may prescribe topical or oral estrogen. Regular sexual activity, with or without a partner, increases blood flow to the vagina and can help prevent genitourinary atrophy.