Menopause refers to the stage of a woman’s life when her monthly periods stop for twelve consecutive months. And no, it can’t be eleven.
This marks the end of the reproductive years and generally takes place in the late 40s or early 50s. There is no hard and fast rule here although the average age is 51. (1)
If you have your ovaries surgically removed, this brings on menopause artificially.
There are 3 main stages that make up the change in life known as menopause:
- Perimenopause: Ovaries gradually produce less estrogen in this decade leading up to menopause
- Menopause: When you have stopped menstruating for at least 12 months, you’re officially menopausal
- Postmenopause: Beyond the first year with no periods, you enter the postmenopausal stage
Today, we’ll walk you through this final stage of postmenopause looking at some of the most common postmenopausal symptoms as well as what you can to mitigate them. (2)
First thing’s first, how do you know that menopause has ended and you’ve entered this third stage of the change?
How Do You Know When You're Officially Postmenopausal?
The primary official definition of being postmenopausal is that it’s been at least 1 year since your last period. Other definitions consider postmenopause as being the year without periods which makes you menopausal, then one more year to get to postmenopause (but who’s counting?).
If you’ve endured the usual hot flashes, night sweats, and dry skin, these tiresome irritations might start to lessen as you enter the postmenopausal phase.
Your mood swings might become less pronounced and you could notice an uptick in your energy levels.
If you’re not sure, you can ask your doctor to measure your follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) with a simple blood test. High FSH levels due to your ovaries shutting down indicate you are postmenopausal. (3)
While the lessening of some typical menopausal symptoms is good news, the downside is that estrogen levels continue to flag as the ovaries shut down.
An added worry is that as many familiar old symptoms fade into the distance, new concerns manifest themselves.
We’ll look now at some of the most frequent symptoms of postmenopause and what you can do to lessen their impact. (4)
Common Symptoms Experienced
You are more exposed to certain risks when you are postmenopausal so it pays to be aware of these potential flashpoints.
We’ll outline the core areas where you might expect to run into problems first then look at some general guidelines for fighting back.
- Osteoporosis: Bones starting to thin is a natural part of getting older. When this thinning accelerates, it can lead to osteoporosis. In the first few years after you stop menstruating, bones can become less dense as the estrogen levels in your body diminish. The result is a greater tendency for your bones to fracture. (5)
You Should: Take calcium supplements or focus on eating lots of calcium-rich foods. Stop smoking and curb your alcohol intake while also exercising more.
- Heart Disease: Don’t panic because being postmenopausal does not directly bring about cardiovascular disease. The risk of heart disease does increase, though, so remain vigilant.
You Should: Focus on a fully balanced diet, refrain from smoking and get plenty of exercise in.
- Postmenopausal Bleeding: Experiencing vaginal bleeding more than a year after your last period is not at all uncommon in the postmenopausal phase. Nearly 1/3 of women suffer from this issue so you should not be alarmed. (6)
You Should: Book an appointment with your doctor to check that there’s no underlying problem.
- Vaginal Dryness: This is a very common symptom that occurs during the change, particularly during postmenopause. If you find intercourse uncomfortable, this could be one reason why.
You Should: Consider using a lubricant. Alternatively, topical estrogen can work to alleviate vaginal dryness.
- Depression: Although the more pronounced mood swings of menopause should subside when you’re postmenopausal, you might very well find yourself feeling down at times. This could even verge on clinical depression in the worst scenario.
You Should: Speak with your doctor about any mental health issues and he’ll refer you to a specialist if appropriate.
Common Treatments to Alleviate Symptoms
Luckily, there are a few ways you can fight back against those postmenopausal blues, both with and without medication.
We’ve looked at some highly specific problems and solutions. Here are some more general guidelines on how to enjoy life even while you’re undergoing the menopause transition…
- Better Nutrition: Eating well is key. Make sure your diet is balanced with ample protein, carbs and healthy fats. Prioritize foods with calcium and vitamin D to maintain strong, healthy bones. Sidestep processed foods and go easy on the artificial sugars. Consider supplements if necessary.
- Exercise Regime: Ensure you get plenty of aerobic exercise tailored to your level of fitness. All you need to do is raise your heart rate slightly. This could be as little as a gentle walk to keep your bones strong. Do whatever works for you but remain active as much as possible.
- Regular Health Care: Visit your doctor at least once a year for a general check-up. Prevention is the best cure.
- Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): If all else fails, consider investigating the many forms of hormone replacement therapy. We recently explored this topic here.
Try to embrace all these transitional years as just the next stage in your life rather than attempting to stave off the inevitable. You’ve seen the end of the most pressing concerns once you’re postmenopausal so celebrate that and push on to fully enjoy all those years to come.