Menopause Complications

Estrogen Loss Increases the Risk of Some Health Problems

The physical changes that occur before and during menopause may be bothersome, but they're a normal part of the menopause transition. However, your risk for more serious complications increases after you reach menopause—during the postmenopause stage.

The complications below are associated with menopause, though menopause isn't often the sole cause. Normal aging also increases your risk of developing these medical problems.

Heart Disease
One important thing to know is that the risk of heart disease increases after menopause, so post-menopausal women are even more likely than men to have a heart attack. Also, estrogen levels drop steeply during menopause. This decline has been linked to irregular heart beat (heart palpitations). If you feel your heart beating more rapidly than normal, make sure to tell your doctor.

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce your risk of heart disease. Adopting healthy lifestyle habits, such as quitting smoking and eating a heart-healthy diet filled with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, will provide a strong defense against heart problems.

Osteoporosis
The decline in estrogen not only affects heart health, but it also puts postmenopausal women at risk for developing osteoporosis. Estrogen is important to new bone production because it supports osteoblasts, which are bone-producing cells. Without estrogen, osteoblasts can't produce enough new bone, and eventually, the effects of osteoclasts (bone-absorbing cells) can weaken bones.

The greatest complication associated with osteoporosis is fractures, which occur most often in the hip, wrist, and spine. Fractures can pose serious problems, especially if you have one at an older age. If you have a fracture when you're older, your body is less able to recover.

There are ways to reduce your osteoporosis risk. Regular exercise and a healthy diet rich in calcium and vitamin D are two simple ways you can prevent osteoporosis.

Urinary Problems
Urinary incontinence (the occasional and involuntary release of urine) is common in aging women, particularly after menopause. The decline in estrogen causes the vaginal tissues and lining of the urethra (a tube that connects the bladder to the outside of the body) to thin out and lose elasticity. As a result, you may experience an uncontrollable urine leakage. This often occurs during sudden movements, such as laughing or coughing.

Quitting smoking and losing weight will both help manage urinary problems, but don't hesitate to talk to your doctor about what further treatment actions you could take. There are many treatment options for urinary incontinence available today.

Weight Gain
Many women experience weight gain as they reach their 40s and 50s. However, this may be due to the natural process of aging—and not solely from menopause. With age, it's harder to maintain muscle mass. Lower muscle mass slows down your metabolism, so it's easier to gain weight.

Weight gain—particularly around the abdomen—is common in women around the years of menopause. The increase in abdominal fat is particularly dangerous, as it ups the risk for heart disease. That's why cutting down on calories, eating a nutritious diet, and taking the time for exercise is so important.

Healthy lifestyle changes are essential to preventing the great majority of menopause complications. It's also important to regularly visit your doctor throughout the entire menopause process. He or she will monitor your symptoms carefully to make sure that your transition through menopause is a healthy one.

View Sources
  • Menopause: Complications. The Mayo Clinic Health Information website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/menopause/DS00119/DSECTION=complications. Accessed September 1, 2009.
  • Menopause Guidebook, 6th Edition. The North American Menopause Society website. Available at: http://www.menopause.org/edumaterials/guidebook/guidebook.aspx. Accessed September 1, 2009.