Health after menopause

Last updated 01 February 2016 — Last reviewed 03 March 2014

At the same time you are menopausal there are a lot of other areas of your health to keep an eye on.  It is important to keep up Pap smear tests, breast checks, watch your diet, blood pressure and cholesterol to ensure good cardiovascular health.  After menopause, changes to the spread of body fat and body shape increases risk of cardiovascular disease and lower levels of oestrogen also increases the risk of bladder weakness and osteoporosis.

regular health checks

Contraception

If a woman does not want to become pregnant, she should continue using contraception until:

  • 1 year without a natural period if over the age of 50 years
  • 2 years without a natural period if under 50 years

Bleeding

It is important to note that bleeding after menopause is not normal and should be investigated Discuss this with your GP.

Pap smears

After reaching menopause you should continue to have a Pap smear test every two years until the age of 70 years. This can be done at a visit to your doctor and reminders are usually every two years.

Breast health

You should get to know the normal look and feel of your own breasts, this will help you notice if any changes happen. You should check your breasts while showering, dressing or looking in the mirror. Look for changes in the breast or nipple, a lump, changes to the skin, discharge or pain. If you find any of these changes see your GP.

If you are 50 years or over and have no breast changes, you should have a breast screen every two years. A breast screen or mammogram is the best way to find breast cancer early. Contact BreastScreen in your state for information.

Cardiovascular disease

Before menopause, women have a lower risk of heart disease than men but as women age and their oestrogen levels go down after menopause, their risk of cardiovascular disease increases.

Menopause can result in increased blood pressure, increased LDL or ‘bad cholesterol’, decreased HDL or ‘good cholesterol’. Other blood fats like triglycerides may also increase.

It is very important to try and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease especially at this time with a healthy lifestyle including:

  • a healthy and nutritious diet
  • regular exercise
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • not smoking

Lifestyle changes may not be enough for some women with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, and medication for high blood pressure and or cholesterol may be required.

Bone health & osteoporosis

It is more common for women to develop osteoporosis after menopause; this is because of the low levels of oestrogen in a woman’s body, which affects her bone health. Most bone loss occurs in the first three years after menopause, and then the rate of bone loss slows. Osteoporosis is a condition in which a loss of bone mass and strength makes bones more fragile which can lead to breaks in the bones.

Smoking, lack of exercise, alcohol and high caffeine intake (5-6 cups per day) can increase the risk of osteoporosis.

Healthy eating with adequate calcium intake is important for bone health. Your diet should include foods containing calcium such as dairy, canned fish with bones (eg sardines), almonds, tofu, leafy green vegetables, and legumes, such as chick peas or kidney beans.

It is important for women to have bone health checks as part of their health screening. This may include medical history, an examination checking risk factors for osteoporosis and may include bone density testing.

Weight gain or redistribution

Many women experience changes to their weight around the time of menopause. The factors that are the main cause of weight gain at this time are likely to be:

  • lifestyle changes
  • decreasing activity levels
  • less muscle and slowing metabolism
  • imbalance between the amount of calories being eaten compared to energy being used
  • diet – choosing cheaper calorie-dense foods instead of healthier food

Menopause doesn’t cause women to gain weight but it can cause body fat to shift from the hips to the abdomen due to the decrease in levels of oestrogen.

Weight gain around the stomach is not healthy and can increase blood pressure, increase blood fat and increase the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia and some cancers. Maintaining a healthy weight at this time of life is very important to help reduce the risk of chronic disease.

Continence

Menopause can result in difficulty in controlling the bladder. This can be caused by a range of things including:

  • weak pelvic floor muscles
  • the bladder being less elastic
  • vaginal dryness leading to urinary tract infections
  • weight gain
  • surgery, e.g. hysterectomy

Incontinence is not something to be embarrassed about; it is a very common problem but it is not something you have to ‘just put up with’. In many cases this can be improved with help from a continence nurse or women’s health physiotherapist. See your doctor for more information

This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at March 2014.

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