The long term health risks of menopause.

“CLEVELAND CLINIC Wellness newsletter about the LONG TERM RISKS OF MENOPAUSE.” Bill Chesnut,MD

Osteoporosis.  Osteoporosis, a “brittle-bone” disease, occurs when the inside of bones become less dense, making them more fragile and likely to fracture. Estrogen plays an important role in preserving bone mass. Estrogen signals cells in the bones to stop breaking down.

Women lose an average of 25 percent of their bone mass from the time of menopause to age 60, due in large part to the loss of estrogen. Over time, this loss of bone can lead to bone fractures. There are many options, including estrogen therapy, to treat brittle bones.

Coronary artery disease.  Coronary artery disease is the narrowing or blockage of arteries that surround the heart muscle. It results when fatty plaque builds up in the artery walls (known as atherosclerosis). This buildup is associated with high levels of cholesterol in the blood. After menopause, a woman’s risk for coronary artery disease increases.

A healthy diet, not smoking, and getting regular exercise are your best options to prevent heart disease. Treating elevated blood pressure and diabetes as well as maintaining cholesterol levels with “statin” medications and aspirin therapy for selected at-risk persons are the standards of care. The benefits and risks of hormone therapy vary depending on a woman’s age and her individual history. In general, younger women in their 50s tend to get more benefits from hormone therapy as compared to postmenopausal women in their 60s. Women who undergo premature menopause are often treated with hormone therapy until age 50 to avoid the increased risk that comes from the extra years of estrogen loss.

What are the symptoms of menopause?

You may be transitioning into menopause if you begin experiencing some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Hot flashes (a sudden feeling of warmth that spreads over the upper body)
  • Night sweats and/or cold flashes
  • Vaginal dryness; discomfort during sex
  • Urinary urgency (a pressing need to urinate more frequently)
  • Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
  • Emotional changes (irritability, mood swings, mild depression)
  • Dry skin, eyes or mouth

Women who are still in the menopause transition (perimenopause) may experience the above as well as:

  • Breast tenderness
  • Worsening of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Irregular periods or skipping periods
  • Periods that are heavier or lighter than usual

Some women might also experience:

  • Racing heart
  • Headaches
  • Joint and muscle aches and pains
  • Changes in libido (sex drive)
  • Difficulty concentrating, memory lapses (often temporary)
  • Weight gain
  • Hair loss or thinning