According to Jean Hailes endocrinologist Dr Sonia Davison, menopause is an important milestone and can be an opportunity for women to reassess their health, and make changes to help them lead healthier lives as they age.
“At the time of menopause the production of sex hormones decreases and periods stop. This means women who are postmenopausal have a higher chance of developing chronic diseases.”
“As doctors, we want women to know they have around a third to a half of their lives still to live after menopause and there is much they can do at this time to prevent chronic disease and ill-health as they age,” she Dr Davison. “It’s important to know what your real health risks are at this time of life and also to know what treatment and lifestyle options there are to reduce any risk factors for you.”
The risk of heart disease increases at menopause. Studies show that after menopause women have a higher incidence of heart disease. It is the number one killer of women in Australia – on average it kills 25 Australian women each day.
A drop in the female hormone oestrogen, weight gain (particularly around the waist) and a rise in cholesterol and blood pressure are believed to be linked to the increased risks of heart disease at menopause.
“Women think they are going to die of breast cancer but statistically they are more likely to die of heart attack or stroke.”
Menopause is also linked to a loss of bone strength. The average woman loses up to 10% of her bone mass in the first five years after menopause, and around half of all women over the age of 60 have at least one fracture due to osteoporosis.
Dr Davison recommends women to continue to exercise to maximise peak bone mass and slow the decline in bone density.
“There is a lot of interest around the time of menopause as to the relationship between low oestrogen levels and brain function. The effects of menopause on memory loss are likely related to the often erratic changes of hormone levels at this time.”
Experts believe there is a link between the hormone testosterone and declining brain function. Testosterone falls as women get older and it hits a low in postmenopausal women around the age of 65.
“This is also the age that the incidence of Alzheimer’s begins to rise, so it’s important to do activities that involve concentration and that are physically and mentally challenging, such as dancing, juggling, reading or doing puzzles.”
According to Dr Davison, women may not think about their health until something starts to go wrong.
“Be proactive to reduce the risk of any heart, bone or cognitive problems and remember that it’s never too late to improve your health and lifestyle.”
“Find a good GP who listens to you and you feel is working with you in a partnership for your health. You may need to book a longer appointment so you can discuss any health issues you are concerned about.”
Dr Davison’s final piece of advice is around treatment for menopause. “Menopause experts across the globe now agree that for women who are going through menopause (who are around 50-60 years of age and who are fit and healthy), the benefits of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) are thought to far outweigh the risks.”
Top prevention tips for chronic disease in later life
- Stop (or don’t) smoke
- Reduce intake of alcohol and caffeine
- Exercise regularly
- Eat a healthy diet with adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Take part in mentally stimulating activities
- Have regular screenings for cancer
- Consider HRT in women younger than 60 (not only to help manage hot flushes and other symptoms of menopause but also potentially to help prevent heart disease)
- Discuss your options and prevention strategies with your doctor
For the latest up to date information on menopause including treatment options please go to jeanhailes.org.au/health-a-z/menopause
October 18 is celebrated worldwide as World Menopause Day.