Osteoporosis and heart disease are some of the complications women can develop after menopause, but these can be reduced with healthy lifestyle choices, according to Dr. Cecily Collins, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UA’s College of Community Health Sciences.
Other post-menopausal issues, such as hot flashes and vaginal and urinary symptoms, are not as easily avoided, she said.
Collins, who also practices at University Medical Center, which is operated by CCHS, provided the information in a presentation as part of the Mini Medical School lecture series hosted by the College in Collaboration with UA’s OLLI program. Her presentation was titled “Post-menopausal health issues for senior adults.”
Menopause is defined as the halting of the menstrual cycle and a time in a woman’s life when the function of the ovaries ceases. The process is gradual, and while the average age of menopause is 51 years, it can occur anywhere from age 45 to age 58, Collins said.
Symptoms of menopause can include hot flashes, vaginal and urinary symptoms and abnormal vaginal bleeding. Issues that women may develop after menopause can include osteoporosis and cardiovascular issues.
Collins explained that hot flashes, a quick feeling of heat and sometimes a red, flushed face and sweating, are “related to a withdrawal of estrogen.” There are medications that can relieve symptoms, she said, and she also recommended that women dress in layers and use air conditioning, particularly at night. Collins said alcohol and caffeine have been shown to increase hot flashes, while exercise can sometimes decrease their severity.
Vaginal dryness can be treated with hormone therapy as well as topical hormones applied directly to vaginal tissue, Collins said. Also associated with menopause are urinary symptoms, including infections, leakage and bladder irritation.
Some of the complications after menopause, including osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease, can be lessened by healthy lifestyle choices, Collins said.
When estrogen levels drop, bone density decreases, putting women at risk for fractures. Low bone density can be exacerbated by a sedentary lifestyle, smoking and excessive alcohol use. Exercise, smoking cessation and limiting alcohol intake can help, as can calcium supplements.
Some of these same lifestyle risks can increase the risk for cardiovascular issues for women who have gone through menopause, Collins said. She encouraged annual blood pressure and cholesterol checks, as well as EKGs and chest x-rays based on a health care provider recommendations.