Menopause is the point in your life when you permanently stop having menstrual periods. After 1 year of having no periods, you've reached menopause.
In most cases, menopause happens around age 50. But everyone's body has its own time line. You may stop having periods in your mid-40s. Or you might have them well into your 50s.
Menopause is a natural part of growing older. You don't need treatment for it unless your symptoms bother you. But it's a good idea to learn all you can about menopause. Knowing what to expect can help you stay as healthy as possible.
What health problems can happen after menopause?
Your risks for some health problems increase after menopause. Your doctor can check your overall health and recommend testing as needed.
These health problems include:
- Heart disease and stroke. Your risk of heart disease and stroke is higher after menopause. This higher risk isn't completely understood. But cholesterol, high blood pressure, and fat around the belly—all things that raise the risk for heart disease and stroke—also increase around this time.
- Bone thinning (osteoporosis). As you age, your bones get thinner naturally. Bone loss increases around menopause, when ovaries stop making estrogen. Estrogen is a hormone that protects against bone loss. So the older you get, the more likely you are to have osteoporosis.
- Slowing metabolism. As you age, your metabolism naturally slows down. But your metabolism and weight are not out of your control. One way to boost your metabolism is to be more active. When you exercise, your metabolism speeds up. For a few hours afterward, it stays slightly higher. And over time, regular exercise builds muscle. The more muscle you have, the more of a boost your resting metabolism gets.
- Diabetes. The risk for getting prediabetes and type 2 diabetes increases with age. Your risk may be higher if you are overweight, get little or no exercise, or have type 2 diabetes in your family.
- Thyroid problems. Women have the highest risk for hypothyroidism. Thyroid problems can cause some symptoms, like irregular menstrual periods, that are similar to perimenopause symptoms.
How can you lower your risk for other health problems?
A healthy lifestyle may help you manage menopause symptoms. It can also help lower your risk for heart disease, osteoporosis, and other long-term health problems. A healthy lifestyle includes the following tips.
- Stop smoking.
Not smoking may reduce hot flashes and long-term health risks.
- Exercise regularly.
Being active improves both physical and emotional health. You can help slow bone loss and prevent broken bones with weight-bearing exercise.
- Make healthy eating a priority.
You'll not only feel better but may also prevent long-term health problems.
- Pay attention to how the emotional side of menopause affects you.
Have a support network. Seek help as needed.
- Get enough calcium and vitamin D.
Eat foods that are rich in calcium. This can help lower your risk of osteoporosis and broken bones. Ask your doctor if taking a supplement with calcium and vitamin D is right for you. The amount of calcium and vitamin D that you need to take depends on your age, your health, and how much calcium you get from the foods you eat.
- Talk with your doctor about relieving menopause symptoms.
If you need relief for symptoms of menopause, you may be thinking about hormone therapy (HT). But because menopause and hormones are linked with your blood vessels' health, talk to your doctor about your risk of heart disease and stroke to make sure that hormone therapy is safe for you.
Current as of: August 2, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine