A new survey by Monash University has revealed women have a concerning lack of knowledge when it comes to the long-term impacts of menopause.
The research found although many of the survey participants were well-versed in the immediate effects of menopause, such as an absence of periods, the inability to get pregnant, and symptoms like hot flushes and mood swings, few noted osteoporosis or cardiovascular disease as possible long-term risks.
According to the Jean Hailes Foundation most Australian women reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, with the average age being 51-52 years old, although in some women it can occur prematurely.
Defined as when a woman has her final menstrual period, menopause is accompanied by a change in hormones that means a woman no longer ovulates.
The reality is the process of going through menopause can take a while, with the stage prior known as perimenopause. This is the phase where a woman’s body is running out of eggs, periods become irregular and they might begin to suffer mood swings.
However, it’s the lack of awareness of what comes after menopause that has researchers concerned.
So what are the long-term effects? Well, the changes that accompany menopause often make women more prone to cardiovascular disease, bladder weakness, and also osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis (or brittle bones) is a condition where bones lose their density becoming more prone to fractures, and the first three years after menopause is when this condition is most likely to develop.
The Jean Hailes Foundation explains that’s because bone density is tied to the hormone oestrogen. When oestrogen drops after menopause, a loss in bone mass occurs.
A healthy diet, lifestyle and exercise can all help ward off osteoporosis. That means a diet which includes dairy, canned fish with bones, almonds, tofu, leafy green vegetables, and legumes such as chickpeas or kidney beans.
Meanwhile, women should have their bone health checked as part of their regular health screening.
As part of menopause, the drop in oestrogen may also see women’s body fat redistributed, shifting from the hips to the abdomen.
This weight gain around the stomach has been linked to raft of health impacts, including increased blood pressure and blood fat, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, and some cancers.
Experts note it’s critical to embrace a healthy lifestyle to mitigate these risks, with further resources available here.
Another pesky side effect of that oestrogen drop is potential continence issues. That’s due to a range of changes that occur in the body, including:
· weakness of the pelvic floor muscles
· less elasticity in the bladder
· thinning of the urethral and bladder lining, leading to urinary tract infections
· vaginal dryness
· weight gain
In this case the impacts can be alleviated by undertaking pelvic floor strengthening exercises and working with a pelvic floor physiotherapist or nurse.
But the bottom line is this…each of the above long-term impacts is manageable if recognised early, so it pays to be aware upfront about the effects that may accompany menopause in the interests of our health.
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