Beyond hot flashes: How to take care of yourself in post-menopause

The start of menopause may signal the end of a woman’s reproductive years, but it also heralds the arrival of a new part of her life. Post-menopause means a woman has been free from having a menstrual cycle for at least 12 months. There may be several changes to her body during this time, including symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, mood swings and memory loss. For some women, these symptoms may continue for several years. However, there are several medical treatments and natural remedies that can alleviate these symptoms. It’s important that post-menopausal women take extra care of their health because their hormonal changes put them at risk for more serious conditions such as osteoporosis and heart disease. Women who smoke, drink caffeine and alcohol, and consume excessive salt and sugar are at even higher risk for these conditions. The best way for women to prevent these diseases and maintain their quality of life is to be proactive about protecting their health and decreasing their risk.

The start of menopause may signal the end of a woman’s reproductive years, but it also heralds the arrival of a new part of her life. Post-menopause means a woman has been free from having a menstrual cycle for at least 12 months. There may be several changes to her body during this time, including symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, mood swings and memory loss. For some women, these symptoms may continue for several years. However, there are several medical treatments and natural remedies that can alleviate these symptoms. It’s important that post-menopausal women take extra care of their health because their hormonal changes put them at risk for more serious conditions such as osteoporosis and heart disease. Women who smoke, drink caffeine and alcohol, and consume excessive salt and sugar are at even higher risk for these conditions. The best way for women to prevent these diseases and maintain their quality of life is to be proactive about protecting their health and decreasing their risk.

Osteoporosis

There is a direct relationship between the lack of estrogen after menopause and the development of osteoporosis. To keep bones strong, the body breaks down old bone and replaces it with new bone tissue. Sometime around age 30, bone mass stops increasing and the goal for bone health shifts to keeping as much bone as possible for as long as possible. As women enter their menopause and post-menopause years, more bone may be broken down than is replaced (osteoporosis). Research shows that up to 20 percent of bone loss can occur in the first five years of menopause. Osteoporosis weakens bones and makes them easily susceptible to breaks. As women age, recovering from a broken bone becomes more difficult and can leave lasting effects such as chronic pain. Symptoms of osteoporosis can also include back pain, loss of height over time and a stooped posture.

To detect the early signs of osteoporosis, post-menopausal women should have their bone density regularly tested. Lifestyle is also an important part of maintaining bone health. Women should eat a balanced diet that includes calcium-rich foods or supplements. Regular exercise can help strengthen bones and slow bone loss. A combination of cardiovascular and weight-bearing activities can help maintain a healthy weight and build up muscles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise every week combined with two or more days a week of muscle-strengthening activities that work all the major muscle groups.  

Heart disease

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women and post-menopausal women are at greater risk of developing the condition. Heart disease is caused by atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of fatty deposits, or plaques, in the walls of the coronary arteries over time. The coronary arteries surround the outside of the heart and supply blood nutrients and oxygen to the heart muscle. When plaque builds up inside the arteries, there is less space for blood to flow normally and deliver oxygen to the heart. If the flow of blood to the heart is reduced by plaque buildup, it can cause angina (chest pain or discomfort) or a heart attack. When the heart muscle does not get enough oxygen and blood nutrients, the heart muscle cells will die (heart attack) and weaken the heart, diminishing its ability to pump blood to the rest of the body. Estrogen regulates cholesterol levels, reducing the amount of bad cholesterol (LDL) and increasing the amount of good cholesterol (HDL) in the body. The post-menopause drop in estrogen is detrimental to this system, putting women at risk for atherosclerosis. To lower their chances of developing heart disease, women need to make lifestyle adjustments, including:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Quitting smoking and staying away from secondhand smoke
  • Controlling cholesterol, blood pressure and/or diabetes
  • Drinking alcohol in moderation
  • Regularly exercising
  • Eating a heart-healthy diet
  • Managing stress

To help lower the risk of heart disease and protect against bone loss, a doctor may recommend hormone replacement therapy for a woman. However, this type of therapy does come with risks such as increased chance of blood clots, stroke and endometrial cancer. It is best that a woman in consult her healthcare provider and weigh her treatment options. Together, they can find a solution that will protect her health and quality of life for years to come.

Osteoporosis

There is a direct relationship between the lack of estrogen after menopause and the development of osteoporosis. To keep bones strong, the body breaks down old bone and replaces it with new bone tissue. Sometime around age 30, bone mass stops increasing and the goal for bone health shifts to keeping as much bone as possible for as long as possible. As women enter their menopause and post-menopause years, more bone may be broken down than is replaced (osteoporosis). Research shows that up to 20 percent of bone [CP1] loss can occur in the first five years of menopause. Osteoporosis weakens bones and makes them easily susceptible to breaks. As women age, recovering from a broken bone becomes more difficult and can leave lasting effects such as chronic pain. Symptoms of osteoporosis can also include back pain, loss of height over time and a stooped posture.

To detect the early signs of osteoporosis, post-menopausal women should have their bone density regularly tested. Lifestyle is also an important part of maintaining bone health. Women should eat a balanced diet that includes calcium-rich foods or supplements. Regular exercise can help strengthen bones and slow bone loss. A combination of cardiovascular and weight-bearing activities can help maintain a healthy weight and build up muscles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise every week combined with two or more days a week of muscle-strengthening activities that work all the major muscle groups.  

Heart disease

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women and post-menopausal women are at greater risk of developing the condition. Heart disease is caused by atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of fatty deposits, or plaques, in the walls of the coronary arteries over time. The coronary arteries surround the outside of the heart and supply blood nutrients and oxygen to the heart muscle. When plaque builds up inside the arteries, there is less space for blood to flow normally and deliver oxygen to the heart. If the flow of blood to the heart is reduced by plaque buildup, it can cause angina (chest pain or discomfort) or a heart attack. When the heart muscle does not get enough oxygen and blood nutrients, the heart muscle cells will die (heart attack) and weaken the heart, diminishing its ability to pump blood to the rest of the body. Estrogen regulates cholesterol levels, reducing the amount of bad cholesterol (LDL) and increasing the amount of good cholesterol (HDL) in the body. The post-menopause drop in estrogen is detrimental to this system, putting women at risk for atherosclerosis. To lower their chances of developing heart disease, women need to make lifestyle adjustments, including:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Quitting smoking and staying away from secondhand smoke
  • Controlling cholesterol, blood pressure and/or diabetes
  • Drinking alcohol in moderation
  • Regularly exercising
  • Eating a heart-healthy diet
  • Managing stress

To help lower the risk of heart disease and protect against bone loss, a doctor may recommend hormone replacement therapy for a woman. However, this type of therapy does come with risks such as increased chance of blood clots, stroke and endometrial cancer. It is best that a woman in consult her healthcare provider and weigh her treatment options. Together, they can find a solution that will protect her health and quality of life for years to come


 [CP1]20% of the total bone loss? Or loss of 20% of bone mass?

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