Friday 27 February 2015


If hot flashes, night sweats, and forgetting your own children's names weren't challenging enough, the hormonal changes of menopause can also make you more vulnerable to myriad diseases and disorders. "Estrogen protects a number of systems in the body—the brain, the skin, the vagina, the bones, the heart," explains Michelle Warren, MD, medical director of the Center for Menopause, Hormonal Disorders and Women's Health, based in New York City. "Once you take estrogen away, there's a profound aging effect on all those systems, particularly your heart and bones." But menopause can also bring with it increased odds of developing some far less obvious conditions. Here, 8 that are on the rise among postmenopausal women.

Diabetes has reached epidemic proportions in the US, nearly tripling among adults over the last 30 years, according to CDC data—from 1980 to 2011, diagnoses in women jumped 103%. And the numbers rise as we age. The rate of Americans diagnosed with diabetes jumps from to 1.6% through age 44 to 12.2% by ages 45 to 64 (menopause tends to happen around age 51). Hormonal changes and the effects of aging conspire to increase diabetes risk after menopause. "Low estrogen can increase insulin resistance and trigger cravings (hello sweet tooth!) that lead to weight gain, which ups your chances of developing diabetes," says Warren. You're especially vulnerable if you already have risk factors like a genetic predisposition to diabetes, a history of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (which is associated with insulin resistance), gestational diabetes, or if you're overweight. The American Diabetes Association recommends getting tested every 3 years starting at age 45, especially if you're overweight.
Autoimmune Conditions
Women are already more likely to suffer from autoimmune disorders than men (we account for more than 75% of the 50 million Americans living with autoimmunity), and postmenopausal women are particularly vulnerable. The risk of developing autoimmune diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Graves' disease, scleroderma, and thyroiditis rises after menopause, according to a 2012 study in the journal Expert Review of Obstetrics and Gynecology, although the reasons are unclear. While experts aren't exactly sure why, recent research points to a subset of immune cells that pump out antibodies that bind and attack the body's tissue, and according to a 2011 study, are found in higher levels in elderly female mice and in people with autoimmune diseases. "There's also some evidence that estrogens protect us from autoimmune conditions prior to menopause," Warren says. In fact one large study found that the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis among women peaks between the ages 50 and 54, when estrogen levels typically plummet.
Joint Pain

Stiff, achy joints pretty much go hand in hand with aging, but complaints tend to skyrocket right around menopause, according to the North American Menopause Society. Inflammation brought on by hormone changes may be to blame. "Estrogens have an anti-inflammatory effect, so when the body is deprived of estrogen, there's a greater inflammatory response," Warren explains. Supporting that estrogen-inflammation link is the fact that in studies, hormone replacement therapy seems to alleviate joint pain.
Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C, the most common chronic blood borne infection in the US, has been linked with menopause, according to a study in the journal Menopause. Researchers from the Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City found that women infected with persistent Hepatitis C (lasting 6 months or more) were more likely to be postmenopausal. Experts suspect that estrogen protects against liver damage, one of the consequences of the chronic virus, so when we produce less of the hormone, we lose that protection and the virus is able to do more damage. Risk factors for Hepatitis C include sharing needles for injected drug use, acupuncture, tattooing, or body piercing; and sharing personal care items such as razors, manicure tools, and toothbrushes. Symptoms include fatigue, fever, headache, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain, and joint pain.
Gout, a type of inflammatory arthritis, involves high levels of uric acid in the blood, which can form needle-like crystals that trigger sudden, severe pain, tenderness, redness, warmth and swelling in joints. Before menopause, estrogen helps the kidneys excrete uric acid; after menopause, when estrogen dips, uric acid levels tend to creep up. It can take several years for them to build to the point where the painful crystals form, according to the Arthritis Foundation, but by about age 60, the number of cases of gout in women and men are about equal; after age 80, more women than men have gout. Medications can control symptoms, but you can help by limiting foods that hike uric acid production, including bacon, haddock, liver, scallops, turkey, veal, and venison.
Urinary Tract Infections
Estrogen plays a fairly big role in the urinary system, maintaining the tissues elasticity and strengthening the cells of the bladder wall to help keep bacteria out. So when estrogen levels drop, you're likely to notice certain urinary symptoms, including a higher risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs). A 2013 study from the Washington University School of Medicine confirms that UTIs are more common after menopause, with one-quarter of women experiencing recurring infections, and that topical estrogen treatment can help prevent them without the risks that come with hormone replacement therapy. To further lower your risk, drink plenty of fluids and hit the bathroom before and after sex.
Vaginal Atrophy
Without estrogen, you may find yourself experiencing thinning, drying, and inflammation of the vaginal walls, also known as vaginal atrophy. Symptoms include vaginal burning, itching, and painful sex, plus urinary urgency and painful urination. While the North American Menopause Society considers these symptoms a natural part of aging—at least one-third of women experience them after menopause—they'll worsen without treatment. And several FDA-approved remedies are available. "Women should speak openly and honestly with their doctor about the symptoms they’re experiencing at the start of their visit. It's the best way to find the right treatment option for them," says Warren. For more information on vaginal atrophy, go to
Gum Disease
As estrogen levels drop in the decade after menopause, women tend to lose bone—and if they're not careful, that could include their teeth. A new study has found that postmenopausal women who have significant bone loss—indicated by high scores on a Fracture Assessment Risk Tool (known as FRAX)—are at greater risk for severe gum disease, which can lead to tooth loss if untreated. According to the study authors, lower estrogen levels cause inflammatory changes in the body that can lead to gingivitis, a precursor to gum disease. They believe the FRAX Tool score can now be used as an early warning system to help postmenopausal women maintain a healthy mouth.


Post a Comment