In the years between menstruation and menopause, women experience many physical and hormonal changes. And, contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t stop after menopause. While menopause affects each woman differently, one common denominator is that menopause comes with surprising health risks for all women. But why exactly is your health affected so long after your last period?
Menopause symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, and weight gain are caused by a drop in the levels of hormones like estrogen, which is critical in protecting the brain, heart, bones, vagina and even the skin. Due to these hormonal changes, women become much more likely to be diagnosed with a serious condition or disorder postmenopause, with the five most common conditions being:
With your body producing less estrogen, your heart disease risk greatly increases. The lack of estrogen can be especially detrimental to smaller blood vessels in the body. Combined with other heart disease risk factors like inactivity, mental stress and smoking, this disease becomes a very real threat for older women. In fact, statistics from the American Heart Association show that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women, causing one in three deaths every year.
Despite the widely-circulated misconception, menopause does not cause cancer, but your risk does increase with age. Another key risk factor that you unfortunately have no control over is the age at which menopause starts. Each woman begins menopause at a different age, but research from the MD Anderson Cancer Center found that starting menopause after age 55 increases your risk of breast, endometrial and ovarian cancers.
Without estrogen to help build new bone, osteoporosis in women becomes much more common postmenopause. Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become very weak, which increases the likelihood of breaking a bone after experiencing a fall or another accident. In fact, half of women over the age of 50 will most likely break a bone due to osteoporosis, according to the National Institute on Aging.
Out of the five million people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, two-thirds are women, and even though the exact cause of Alzheimer’s is unknown, researchers believe that menopause plays a role in women’s increased risk. Menopause affects you both physically and mentally because estrogen regulates the brain’s metabolism, but when estrogen levels drop postmenopause, brain cells become damaged, increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s.
Similar to cancer, the age at which you begin menopause affects your diabetes risk as well. A recent study found that women who began menopause before age 46 were 25 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, while women who had their last period when they were 55 or older had a 12 percent increased risk. Low estrogen levels are also linked to several diabetes risk factors, like an increased appetite and body fat, high blood-sugar levels and a decreased metabolism.
Postmenopause: Staying Healthy
Although these conditions are all serious threats to your health, the good news is that while menopause is inevitable, experiencing these health risks is not. Aging can come with many complications, but by being proactive about your health, you can ward off postmenopause health threats.
Plus, the best part about staying healthy post-menopause is that it doesn’t take more than just a few simple lifestyle changes, such as: