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Common postmenopausal issues

You’ve learned to endure the hot flashes and mood swings, but that’s not the worst of what you might experience after menopause. Although many symptoms are associated with menopause, it’s often possible to minimize their impact. Here, a primer of postmenopausal complications that can affect your health or quality of life.

  1. Weight gain. Many women gain weight around the time that they experience menopause, due to the body’s hormone changes. You may have to eat less and exercise more just to maintain your usual weight. After menopause, your weight is more likely to go to your belly, which can raise your risk of diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers, such as breast or colorectal. To fight the bulge, eat healthfully and exercise regularly, including strength training with weights and exercises that strengthen your abdominal muscles.
  2. Osteoporosis. When your ovaries slow down or stop producing estrogen, your bones become less dense. When bone loss happens too rapidly, or if your bones weren’t dense enough to begin with, you can develop osteoporosis. To reduce your risk, be sure you get plenty of calcium and vitamin D—talk with your doctor about whether you might need supplements—and do weight-bearing exercises like walking or lifting weights.
  3. Heart disease. Your risk of developing cardiovascular disease rises after your estrogen levels fall due to menopause. You’re more likely to develop high blood pressure, as well. To reduce your chances of getting heart disease, eat healthfully, quit smoking, do regular cardiovascular exercise and see your doctor so you can get your high blood pressure and high cholesterol treated (if applicable).
  4. Vaginal dryness or atrophying. With lower hormone levels in your body, your vaginal walls may thin and become inflamed, making sex painful. You may also experience vaginal lubrication problems. You don’t have to swear off sex; over-the-counter moisturizing products can relieve vaginal dryness. If sex is still painful, see your doctor. He or she may prescribe estrogen cream to help reverse vaginal atrophying.
  5. Urinary incontinence. Estrogen helps keep your bladder healthy. So when your ovaries stop producing the hormone after menopause, your bladder tissue may be more likely to deteriorate, which could lead to stress incontinence (leaking a bit of urine when sneezing or coughing) or urge incontinence (feeling a sudden urge to empty the bladder, then urinating before making it to the ladies’ room). See your doctor so incontinence doesn’t prevent you from living your life. He or she may recommend Kegel exercises, planned pre-emptive trips to the bathroom, changing what or how much you drink throughout the day or prescription medications.