Effects of menopause on the body
You may have heard menopause is different for every woman. When perimenopause starts (typically sometime between 45 and 55 years), how long each stage of menopause lasts (there are three stages – perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause), the effects of menopause on the body … And the effects of menopause on the mind.
To confuse matters further, many early signs of menopause can be mistaken for other health conditions. And how perimenopause is diagnosed isn’t always consistent. Some doctors will recommend a series of blood tests to monitor hormone levels over time, while others will diagnose perimenopause based on physical symptoms.
But there are some changes that happen to a menopausal woman’s body over time that can impact long-term health. It’s worth talking about these so that women can prepare for the symptoms and effects and protect their health long-term.
‘Short-term’ effects of menopause on the body
First, let’s talk about the ‘short-term’ effects of menopause on the body. When a woman is perimenopausal her hormones start to fluctuate due to the decline in reproductive hormones (estrogen and progesterone) produced by her ovaries.
These hormonal deficiencies lead to many physical changes taking place in a woman’s body long before her ‘official’ menopause.
The physical changes and symptoms women experience due to the reduction in hormones can be unpleasant and debilitating.
Common ‘short-term’ symptoms of menopause include:
– Hot flashes / flushes
– Night sweats
– Irregular periods
– Disturbed sleep
– Urinary incontinence
– Mood swings and anxiety
– Low libido
‘Short-term’ is misleading here because for some women these symptoms can continue for several years. However, it’s important to differentiate between these common signs of perimenopause and early postmenopause, and the long-term negative effects of menopause on the body.
What are the long-term effects of menopause on the body?
Periods eventually stop completely (a woman is officially considered in menopause after 12 consecutive months of no periods) and for some women this finality can be emotionally tricky.
The decline in estrogen has a profound impact throughout a woman’s body and can have serious implications for her health, the most significant of which are heart health and bone strength and density.
Osteoporosis is linked with estrogen deficiency, making postmenopausal women particularly prone to loss of bone mass and fragile bones that fracture easily. Studies show that half of all women over 60 will suffer at least one fracture due to osteoporosis.
Estrogen also protects cardiovascular health by shielding against cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and controlling LDL (bad) cholesterol and inflammation. Ongoing low levels of estrogen mean menopausal and postmenopausal women are at higher risk of developing coronary heart disease or a stroke.
Long-term hormone deficiency also increases a woman’s risk of chronic health conditions including type 2 diabetes, dementia, and bowel cancer.
Other long-term side effects of menopause include hair loss, loss of skin elasticity and wrinkles, dark spots and dry skin, insomnia, decreased muscle mass, vaginal dryness, weight gain, depression, brain fog, and joint and muscle pain.
HRT to treat effects of menopause on the body
HRT replaces the hormones the body is no longer producing. The hormone treatment includes estrogen, and sometimes progesterone, and is given as a skin patch, gel, spray, or pill.
Research has shown that for most women who take HRT the benefits outweigh the risks with their perimenopause symptoms improving within 3-6 months of starting HRT. And taking HRT reduces the risk of developing osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, bowel cancer, osteoarthritis, and other health conditions due to hormone deficiency.