Have you heard the old proverb? After a storm comes calm. Well, that’s the perfect way to justify and define postmenopause. First was the transition phase, when your body goes through a storm called perimenopause. Then comes the climax, where your periods stop, and you enter into the menopause stage. The time after that is postmenopause, the last and final stage after menopause.
If we go by numbers, in the United States, around 6000 women experience menopause daily. That means over 2 million women each year. As a friend once said, “I kept missing my menses month after month until it was a whole year that I went without them. I understood that they won’t come back again. A little bloodwork and the doctor’s validation confirmed my thoughts. That’s how it is for most women.
At this time, the majority of the symptoms that kept troubling you in the transition period and during menopause will lessen in severity. However some women still keep getting the symptoms for a long time. In postmenopause, the estrogen and progesterone levels are too low. This puts you at risk of several conditions like osteoporosis, heart disease, etc. So, taking utmost care of yourself at this time is a mandate.
If you have hit the postmenopause phase, many questions may be running through your mind. Right? You may want to know what happens to your hot flashes and night sweats. How will life be postmenopause? Your queries are endless, and that’s quite natural. In this article, I have covered it all. I have given an insight into what postmenopause is, its age, duration, and the possible symptoms.
What is Postmenopause?
The meaning lies in the name. Post means after, and postmenopause refers to the period after your menopause. When you have not had your periods for 12 consecutive months, that means menopause has started. The time that follows is considered postmenopause.
At What Age Does the Postmenopause Phase Start?
There isn’t any specific age for the postmenopause stage to begin; it starts after your menopause. Most people go through menopause at 51 years on average in the U.S. However, it can happen anytime between your 40s and 50s.
If you have had your menopause between 40 and 44 years, you have gone through early menopause. But, menopause, before you have reached 40, is premature menopause.
What is the Duration of Postmenopause?
There isn’t any duration for postmenopause as it lasts forever, from your menopause through the remainder of your life. After menopause, your hormone levels are lower than before. You won’t have your periods anymore. Your chances of getting pregnant also become nil. This is because your ovaries aren’t releasing eggs anymore.
10 Symptoms of Postmenopause – The Ones That Get Carried Over from Menopause
Postmenopause doesn’t come with any additional symptoms other than the ones you had in menopause. In fact, in most cases, the symptoms one faces during the transition period and during menopause get carried into the postmenopause phase. This, however, varies from one woman to the other. In some, the symptoms ease after menopause or go away for good. Some women, however, continue to face it for long.
When talking about postmenopause, it is crucial to discuss postmenopausal syndrome. It primarily refers to the four significant symptoms seen in menopausal women. These include hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and sexual dysfunction. Besides these, other symptoms either get better in the postmenopause phase or disappear.
1. Hot Flashes
Experiencing hot flashes after menopause isn’t uncommon; some women continue to get them for some time. The decreasing estrogen levels are to be blamed for the same. You could be having it regularly or randomly.
I was going through a study conducted by Mayo Clinic researchers on around 5000 women. The findings have some interesting data. Those aged 60 complaining of night sweats and hot flashes were mostly committed or married. Moreover, in a self-assessment of their health, they did not deem themselves as completely fit. Contrastingly, women with vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes, night sweats) above 70 had an increased incidence of caffeine consumption .
As I have already said, each woman has a different hot flash story to tell. A friend of mine stopped getting hot flashes by the time she was 54. Meanwhile, for someone else, I knew it went on for a really long time.
2. Night Sweats
For many women, the frequency of night sweats becomes less severe with postmenopause. But some continue to have it at the same intensity for quite a long time. However, if you get night sweats in postmenopause quite often, you should consult a healthcare provider. It could indicate underlying conditions like HIV, tuberculosis, diabetes, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), etc. It may also be because of a reaction to any medication.
3. Mood Swings
The anxiety, depression, and mood swings from the menopause phase get carried over to the postmenopause stage in most women. One of the main reasons for the same is the decreasing hormone levels. The chemical serotonin helps control our mood and has other functions.
When the estrogen levels get reduced, the serotonin levels lower as well. This leads to an increased incidence of mood swings. Besides this, with postmenopause comes a whole lot of physical changes. Your reproductive years come to an end. Also, your sex life may not be the same as before. All these could make you feel miserable and cranky. That is why it is important to practice relaxation techniques to calm your mind.
4. Sleep Disturbances
Perimenopause and menopause cause sleep problems due to the hot flashes and night sweats. However, sleep disturbances are widespread in postmenopause as well.
The National Institutes of Health provides data that shows around 39% – 47% of women are deprived of a good night’s sleep in perimenopause. Whereas 35-60% of women cannot sleep well in the postmenopausal phase. The culprit here is the low hormone levels that lead to insufficient sleep and mood alterations. It would help if you aimed to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep in postmenopause, lest it may affect your health.
5. Vaginal Dryness
The low hormone levels lead to vaginal dryness in the menopause transition and menopause phase. This is carried forward to the postmenopause phase, most common in women who are 51-60 years old. This causes the vaginal tissues to become thin and inflamed. That’s why you should take proper precautions and never ignore vaginal pain and dryness. Otherwise, the symptoms could get troublesome with time.
6. Low Sex Drive
In postmenopause, you aren’t in your reproductive years anymore. The low estrogen levels also lead to vaginal dryness and other bodily changes. Moreover, mood swings and hot flashes could hamper your emotional well-being. All these can result in low sex drive in the period after your menopause.
7. Hair Loss
Because of the low hormone levels, many women may experience hair loss during and after menopause. The hair follicles start to shrink, which results in thin hair. The hair growth reduces, and it falls pretty quickly. That’s why I always mention to take extra care of what you eat. You should go for a wholesome diet of fruits, veggies, whole grains, etc. A friend of mine even suggested green tea for hair growth.
8. Urinary Incontinence
This is another problem seen in women after they have crossed the menopause stage. The reduced estrogen levels weaken the pelvic muscles. This is why it becomes difficult for the bladder to hold urine, leading to urinary incontinence. After menopause, the estrogen levels dip further, which leads to urinary incontinence and even urinary tract infections.
9. Dry Skin
If you notice your skin getting dry and itchy during and after menopause, you’ve got to blame it all on the low estrogen levels – the cause of all problems. Collagen and oils serve as natural moisturizers and also help to maintain the elasticity of the skin. The estrogen hormones play a pivotal role in increasing collagen levels. So, a decline in estrogen levels means a reduction in collagen. The outcome is dryness and itchiness in the skin.
10. Weight Gain
Increased estrogen levels result in a slow metabolism, accounting for the extra kilos you gain during the perimenopause and menopause stages. It could also continue in the postmenopause stage and go from bad to worse if you aren’t cautious about controlling your weight.
What Are the Health Risks Related to Postmenopause?
Postmenopause is not just about the symptoms mentioned above. Your estrogen levels are significantly low during this phase. The estrogen hormone’s critical role isn’t confined to the reproductive system. It controls and manages the other systems, like the skeletal, cardiovascular, nervous, and so on.
So, a decline in estrogen means the other functions of your body are at stake, especially if you aren’t cautious. So, let’s look at the risks women are prone to after menopause.
Women often go through tremendous bone loss during the postmenopause phase. The low estrogen levels are again responsible for the same. You may lose around 25% of the bone density in postmenopause.
An increased bone loss may make you more susceptible to osteoporosis and fractures. The commonly affected bones are the ones on your spine, wrist, and hip. Bone densitometry is mainly done to detect the calcium content in your bones.
2. Cardiovascular Disease
The estrogen hormone controls a whole lot of functions of the cardiovascular system. Low estrogen levels make women more prone to high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which can affect their hearts. That’s why maintaining a healthy life is essential for your heart health.
3. Vaginal Problems
When the walls of the vagina are thin, dry, and inflamed due to the low estrogen levels, it may result in vaginal atrophy. This could lead to bladder problems and urinary incontinence if not managed well.
4. Mental Health Issues
The low hormone levels account for stress, anxiety, and irritability. Teamed with this is your changing ways of life because of the physical and behavioral change brought about by menopause. All these may take a toll on your mental health.
Postmenopause isn’t as scary as the facts say. But you have to take good care of your diet and your health. When you do that, you can take control of most of the health issues you are susceptible to.
How is Postmenopause Diagnosed?
When you’ve not had your periods for 12 months in a row, that means menopause has begun. That’s the first indication. The time after that is the postmenopausal phase. To get assurance, you can talk to the doctor regarding the same.
They may even prescribe blood tests to check your hormone levels. The follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels test will help determine if you are in the postmenopausal phase. If you have reached the menopause phase, then the FSH will be high. But remember, the FSH levels fluctuate during the perimenopause as well. So, even before you go for the FSH test, ensure you’ve missed your periods for a year.
How To Treat Postmenopause?
There isn’t any treatment for postmenopause. However, there are ways to manage the symptoms that bother you during this time.
- If your depression and mood swings hamper your daily living. Then you may consult your healthcare provider.
- Vaginal creams mostly come to aid in treating vaginal dryness.
- Medicines like Gabapentin, if given by the doctor, can help to control hot flashes.
How To Manage Your Postmenopause Symptoms At Home
Besides the medications, changing your lifestyle may even help manage postmenopause symptoms. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Exercise regularly. It may involve walking, strength training, jogging, yoga, and other meditation techniques. It will keep you fit physically and mentally.
- Engaging yourself in weight-bearing exercises will help you maintain your overall bone health.
- A healthy diet comprising fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean meats would be beneficial. If you suffer from bone problems, add foods rich in Vitamin D and calcium. You can even opt for supplements.
- Keep sugar and salt intake to a minimum.
- Quit smoking as it aggravates most symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats.
- Avoid increased consumption of coffee and alcohol.
It would be best to go for regular checkups to ensure you are doing fine. Some of the tests that you need to do regularly are mammograms, pelvic exams, screenings for gynecological problems, bone density scans, and pap smears (for cervical cancer).
If your healthcare provider has confirmed menopause, then you’ll not be able to get pregnant since then. This is because your ovaries aren’t producing eggs anymore, and you are no longer ovulating.
Menopause is a significant change in your life that can be challenging. It’s okay to feel low and break down at times. Give yourself the time to deal with the immense physical and psychological changes. However, caring for your health is a mandate. Keep visiting the doctor regularly. Remember to screen yourself for several medical conditions occasionally. A healthy body leads to a healthy mind. That has been my motto always.