This is the fifth part of our series about the menopause based on our booklet “Fast Facts for Patients: Menopause”, which is freely available online. This article addresses long-term consequences of the menopause.

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So far, we’ve talked about symptoms that may occur during the menopause transition. However, it is also important to understand the long-term consequences of the menopause.

Oestrogen protects the cardiovascular system, bones, brain, and vaginal and bladder tissues. This protection is lost after the menopause, increasing the risk of CVD (heart attack and stroke), osteoporosis, cognitive decline, and vaginal and bladder problems.

While the menopause is inevitable, these long-term consequences are not. There are many ways to reduce the risk through lifestyle changes and HRT.

Cardiovascular Disease

  • Oestrogen protects the cardiovascular system (heart and blood vessels) during your reproductive years.
  • This benefit is gradually lost after the menopause, which increases the risk of CVD, including heart attack and stroke. CVD is the leading cause of death in women over 50.

Cardiovascular disease

Osteoporosis

  • Oestrogen protects the bones during your reproductive years.
  • After the menopause, women lose about 1% of their bone density each year. This puts them at risk of fractures.
  • Fractures related to osteoporosis are the most common cause of poor health in postmenopausal women.

Osteoporosis

Vaginal Dryness

  • Many women experience vaginal dryness during the menopause transition and postmenopausal years: instead of being stretchy and well lubricated, the tissues become dry and are more easily damaged.
  • Vaginal dryness may cause discomfort or pain during sex and may make smear tests painful.

Sex and the Menopause

For some women the menopause represents freedom from periods and the worry of becoming pregnant. However, for others the hormone changes during the menopause transition can affect libido (interest in sex) and cause problems such as vaginal dryness (urogenital atrophy) and soreness, which can make sex difficult or painful. This may in turn reduce sexual desire and arousal, and reduce pleasure and orgasm.

The changes associated with urogenital atrophy may affect sexual intimacy and the ability to have a physical loving relationship. Women also report feeling less healthy and attractive. This can lead to avoidance of sex and intimacy – an important part of a relationship for many people.

Urogenital atrophy is also a common cause of bleeding after sex (postcoital bleeding).

Practical Tips

  • Use lubricants to help during sex, and vaginal moisturisers to ease discomfort.
  • Explore other types of stimulation and intimacy with your partner. Sex doesn’t have to include penetration to be enjoyable.
  • Find alternative ways to show affection and share intimacy with your partner. Even if you don’t feel like having sex, affection and comfort are important and can help you feel better.

Further Steps If Needed

  • Your doctor can prescribe various treatments to help with urogenital atrophy.

Warning: If you experience any bleeding after the menopause, see your doctor.

Do I need contraception during the menopause transition?

Bladder Problems

  • The bladder and other tissues in the urinary system are also affected by oestrogen levels. The changes in the vagina and urinary system are sometimes called urogenital atrophy.
  • Many women experience bladder problems during the menopause transition and postmenopausal years. Problems include needing to pass urine more often (which may disturb sleep) and incontinence.

Cognitive Decline

  • Many women have problems with short-term memory and “brain fog” during the menopause transition, but this usually improves after the menopause.
  • The lack of oestrogen after the menopause may increase the risk of cognitive decline (decrease in memory and thinking skills) and possibly dementia.

 

Please check out the other posts of our series here:

 

Information based on Fast Facts for Patients: Menopause (Karger, 2021).

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