Normally, women experience menopause symptoms sometime in their fifties for about a year or so, but when menopause is over, women are considered to be postmenopause. As the symptoms of menopause start to decrease over time, women’s estrogen levels decrease as well since their ovaries begin to shut down. These drastic changes can leave many women confused on what to expect and how to monitor their health. Here are some frequently asked questions about postmenopause that every woman should have the answers to:
Can I still get pregnant now that I am postmenopausal?
When you have gone without a period for a year, chances are you will not be able to get pregnant. However, you should always use a contraceptive until you have been tested to confirm you are postmenopausal. A simple blood test, measuring your follicle stimulating hormones (FSH) will determine whether or not you are postmenopausal. If you are unsure, ask Dr. Ayalon to conduct this test.
What are Hot Flashes?
Women can experience hot flashes several years before and after menopause, while some women never experience hot flashes at all. Hot flashes are characterized by intense heat, rapid heartbeat, and sweating, and each occurrence may last as long as thirty minutes. The cause of hot flashes is linked with the decreased levels of estrogen in the body as a result of menopause. When the body doesn’t have as much estrogen, it effects the ability of the hypothalmus to regulate body temperature. If you are not of the age to experience menopause and have had hot flashes, this is a sign of a problem with the pituitary gland.
How can I Treat Hot Flashes?
The most common treatment of hot flashes is in the form of hormone therapy. Treatments which utilize a mixture of estrogen and progestin hormone replacement are about 80-90% effective in reducing the frequency and intensity of hot flashes. Hormone replacement therapy should only be used to treat hot flashes and other menopause symptoms in the short term. Long term use of hormone replacement therapy has been linked to other serious health problems like strokes, breast cancer, and uterine cancer. Hormone replacement therapy should be evaluated every year.
Estrogen treatment can be in the form of oral pills, a patch, or a cream. It is recommended that women take the lowest dose of estrogen needed to relieve symptoms for the shortest time necessary. Treatment using both estrogen and progesterone/progestin is called combination therapy and is recommended for women who have not surgically removed their uterus.
Women who still have their uterus should not take estrogen without progestin. Estrogen causes the lining of the uterus to thicken, but if taken without progestin, estrogen can cause the cell lining to overgrow and progress into cancer. Progesterone is what prompts these cells to shed each month, helping to eliminate the risk of cancer development. Women taking progesterone may experience bleeding each month. However, women who have had a hysterectomy and no longer have a uterus do not necessarily need to take progesterone. If you are unsure of which treatment is best for you, consult Dr. Ayalon to ensure you find the safest and most effective treatment for your body.
What changes might occur to my body now that menopause is over?
The good news for women who are postmenopausal is that the tiredness will fade and energy will begin to return. As a woman experiencing bodily changes post-menopause, there are new concerns that you should be aware of. Women in the postmenopause stage are especially at risk for health conditions related to the hormonal changes in their bodies like osteoporosis and heart disease. Women who smoke, drink caffeine and alcohol, and consume excessive salt and sugar are at higher risk for these conditions. The best way to prevent these diseases, is to live a healthy lifestyle far before menopause; but to decrease your risk you should exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet, and take a dietary supplement with calcium, B and D-vitamins.
How can I prevent vaginal dryness?
Over the counter vaginal lubricants are available to make sexual intercourse more comfortable for you and your partner. If these are not successful, topical estrogen is another alternative which can help other symptoms of menopause and postmenopause like hot flashes. If you are interested in topical estrogen solutions, consult Dr. Ayalon about your options.
What is postmenopausal bleeding?
Postmenopausal bleeding is any vaginal bleeding which occurs after going twelve months without a period due to menopause. Somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of all women experience postmenopausal bleeding. In most cases there is nothing to worry about, but no matter how little or brief postmenopausal bleeding is, you should schedule an exam with Dr. Ayalon to ensure that the bleeding is not a more serious problem.
Will I still need to see my gynecologist now that I am postmenopausal?
Even though you no longer experience a menstrual cycle this does not mean you should skip regular checkups and screenings with your gynecologist. Even postmenopausal women should have regular pelvic exams, Pap smears, and mammograms to keep track of any changes in their bodies. Each woman has a different medical history and the frequency of your exams will depend on your individual needs. If you are postmenopausal, check with our office to see how often you will need to schedule checkups based on your medical history.
We hope this list of frequently asked questions helped clear up any confusion you have about postmenopause. If you have any questions or concerns that have not been discussed, feel free to contact our office. We would be happy to help you learn more about postmenopause and what to expect in this new stage of life.