How Menopause Affects Your Health

Posted by Meghan Orner on May 30, 2017

How Menopause Affects Your Health

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:

Heart Disease

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.  

Cancer

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.

Osteoporosis

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.

Alzheimer’s Disease

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.

Diabetes

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.

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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:

  • Strength-training and balance exercises. Strength-training exercises, like hand grips and toe stands, and balance exercises, like knee lifts and standing on one foot, are effective in lowering the risk of falls and osteoporosis in women.
  • Eat a balanced diet. A diet that is low in fat, high in fiber and filled with plenty of fruits and vegetables will greatly reduce your diabetes and heart disease risk. If you’re hesitant to drastically change your diet, try swapping common cravings with heart-healthy foods that are just as delicious to help you get started.
  • Visit your doctor regularly. In addition to scheduling annual physical exams, you should also get regular mammogram screenings. Despite the common misconception, women of all ages benefit from mammograms. In fact, women aged 50 and older should get mammograms every one to two years.  
  • Keep up the calcium and vitamins. Osteoporosis in women is especially common when they have not consumed sufficient levels of calcium throughout their life, but it is possible to build up healthy bones with your diet. You can also speak with your doctor about the possibility of taking vitamin supplements to ensure you’re getting the right amount.
  • Quit smoking. Remember that it’s never too late to quit smoking and lower your your heart disease risk. Even if you don’t smoke but are around someone who does, distance yourself as much as possible to avoid the effects of secondhand smoke.  
  • Guarantee your safety in any situation with Medical Guardian. Even after taking these preventative health steps, it’s still possible for an emergency to occur, but with a Medical Guardian medical alert device, you never have to worry about being alone in an emergency. Whether you need EMTs or a family member, our trained operators will send the help you need right away.

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