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Menopause matters

You may already have experienced irregular periods, difficulty sleeping, dryness, hot flashes and night sweats, due to menopause. Luckily, most of these symptoms will disappear. But menopause can raise your risk of developing many health conditions. Here are five you need to know about:

  1. Increased blood pressure. Menopause can decrease elasticity in the carotid artery, the aorta and other large arteries, causing artery walls to expand and contract with each heartbeat. Over time, this can enlarge the heart, leading to high blood pressure and heart disease.
    What you can do: Reduce your salt intake. Cutting back on salt prevents blood pressure from rising.
  2. Heart disease. Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death for women. Why are women so susceptible? Blame decreasing estrogen levels. It seems estrogen has a protective effect on the heart, raising HDL (good) cholesterol and lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol.
    What you can do: Follow a diet low in saturated fats, reduce high blood pressure and get regular exercise.
  3. Diabetes. The hormones estrogen and progesterone affect how your cells respond to insulin. During menopause, changes in hormone levels can cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels. If blood sugar isn’t regulated, or if weight gain becomes an issue, you’re more likely to develop diabetes.
    What you can do: Exercise regularly to keep your weight under control. Eat foods with a low glycemic index and those containing “good” complex carbohydrates and plenty of fiber (think: oatmeal, brown rice, popcorn and whole-grain cereal). Avoid sugar-filled snacks and drinks.
  4. Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a skeletal disorder in which you lose bone mineral density. Risk for this disorder increases after menopause, due to estrogen loss. When your body produces less estrogen, your bones become brittle, putting you at higher risk for fractures.
    What you can do: Have your height measured yearly to detect any lost inches—a sign of osteoporosis. Also, get enough calcium (you need at least 1,200 mg a day) and do some strength training to keep your bones strong.
  5. Cancer. Menopause isn’t directly linked to increased cancer risk, but cancer risk does increase as we get older. And some menopause treatments can raise your risk of developing breast and uterine cancer.
    What you can do: Get the screening tests your doctor recommends, since early detection is key. And continue to get Pap tests and annual mammograms after menopause.