After a woman has gone 12 consecutive months without a period, she has gone through menopause and is considered postmenopausal from this point onwards. Many perimenopause symptoms a woman may have experienced earlier subside in the first year or two of postmenopause; however, some symptoms may persist, and a woman may be at a greater risk of developing other concerning health conditions.
The average age of menopause in the U.S. is 51, meaning that most women enter postmenopause naturally in their fifties, though some enter it as late as their sixties. At this point, the ovaries have stopped releasing eggs entirely, and women can no longer become pregnant naturally.
What Causes Postmenopause Symptoms?
Once a woman has entered postmenopause, levels of hormones like estrogen generally stop fluctuating and reach consistently low levels. This, of course, happens naturally as part of the cessation of the menstrual cycle that all women experience with age. Many postmenopause symptoms go away shortly after the start of postmenopause, but symptoms strongly related to low estrogen levels - such as vaginal dryness - may remain into their sixties or even beyond. A small percent of women continue to have symptoms like hot flashes into their sixties.
Postmenopausal Symptoms and Health Concerns
The low estrogen levels characteristic of postmenopause can cause some perimenopause symptoms to continue, as well as increase the risk of long-term health conditions.
The following are the most common symptoms of postmenopause:
- Vaginal dryness
- Loss of libido
- Urinary incontinence
- Memory lapses
A woman is at greater risk of developing the following conditions after the menopause transition:
- Osteoporosis. Estrogen plays a role in regulating the natural breakdown and buildup of bones. Therefore, when estrogen levels are low, this processes can become dysregulated, and bone mass is lost faster than it is gained. This can lead to weaker bones and ultimately debilitating fractures. That is why prevention is paramount.
- Heart disease. Postmenopausal women are much more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than their premenopausal counterparts. It is thought that this is because of the low estrogen levels during postmenopause. Cardiovascular problems also make women more likely to suffer a heart attack.
Addressing Postmenopause Symptoms and Health Conditions
Relief of postmenopause symptoms can be approached in two ways: reducing the symptom and dealing with the underlying cause. Usually, a combination of the two is most effective. When it comes to postmenopausal health concerns, prevention is key. This involves healthy lifestyle adjustments and balancing hormone levels.
Sex After Menopause
It is a common myth that menopause means the end of a woman's sex life, but this is far from true. Although some women may choose to no longer be sexually active after menopause, it is by no means necessary to do so. In fact, many women find sexual activity freer and more enjoyable because they no longer have to worry about accidental pregnancy.
However, some women may encounter obstacles to the sex life they want to have, namely vaginal dryness and low libido. Changes brought on by menopause can also lower self-esteem. Vaginal dryness can be alleviated with a water-based lubricant, which also helps facilitate pleasurable intercourse. A low sex drive can be more difficult to tackle, but it is recommended that a woman talk with her partner about postmenopause and her feelings in general to help bridge the gap. Resolving vaginal dryness and other symptoms can also help.
An Action Plan for a Healthy Postmenopause
Wellness during postmenopause is two-pronged: it's crucial to manage postmenopause symptoms and prevent health conditions like osteoporosis. To achieve this, it's important to lead a healthy lifestyle and address the characteristic low estrogen levels of postmenopause.
Consume a balanced diet
A diet high in fiber and low in saturated fat is key in preventing cardiovascular disease. Women over 50 should also be getting 1,200 mg of calcium and 600 IU of vitamin D daily to ward off osteoporosis. Eating phytoestrogenic foods - such as tofu, chickpeas, and flaxseed - can also modestly increase estrogen levels because of the plant-based estrogenic compounds they contain.
Different types are a very important part of postmenopausal health. Weight-bearing exercises - such as lifting weights and walking - help maintain bone mass by building skeletal muscle. In addition, Kegel exercises are easy to do and help make the pelvic muscles stronger, remedying urinary incontinence.
High stress levels can worsen postmenopause symptoms. Taking time to do something relaxing like yoga, meditation, tai chi, or reading can help relieve stress.
A potentially lifelong habit can be difficult to quit, but it is one of the best things a woman can do for her health at this stage. Smoking lowers estrogen levels, leading to weaker bones and stronger postmenopause symptoms. It also reduces lung capacity, which means the heart has to work harder to pump blood through the body. This puts a woman at even greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Balance hormone levels naturally
Herbal supplements can be taken to help balance hormone levels. There are two main types, and they work in different ways.
- Phytoestrogenic herbal supplements. These products typically contain herbs like soy, black cohosh, red clover, dong quai, or a blend of two or more of these herbs. They contain phytoestrogens, which are botanical, estrogen-like compounds that can raise estrogen levels in the body when levels are low. However, if these supplements are taken for more than six months at a time, they can increase a woman's risk of developing breast cancer.
- Hormone-regulating herbal supplements. These products, like Macafem, are hormone-free. They are rich in healthy alkaloids and essential nutrients that support the body's hormonal glands. This allows the body to produce hormones like estrogen and progesterone at the levels it needs.
Because every woman's body is different, the symptoms she experiences during postmenopause may vary as well. The elements of this action plan can be mixed and matched to form a regimen that best alleviates a woman's symptoms, prevents more serious medical conditions, and maximizes her overall health in accordance with her needs and preferences.