Postmenopause: Causes, symptoms & how clinical research can help
24 August 2023
Postmenopause is the stage in a person's life when they have not experienced menstruation for at least 12 consecutive months - it marks the permanent cessation of their reproductive capabilities. Characterised by low levels of reproductive hormones, postmenopause can cause various symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and mood changes. It can also increase a person's risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. Understanding the symptoms and complications of postmenopause can empower you to manage your health effectively, make informed decisions about your care options, and ultimately improve your overall well-being. In this blog post, we will uncover what you can expect from postmenopause and provide tips for navigating its various symptoms and complications. We will also shed light on how clinical trials are helping to mitigate the impact of postmenopause - illuminating a path towards a more vibrant life beyond this transitional stage.
What is postmenopause?
Postmenopause is the last stage of menopause, of which there are three stages:
- Perimenopause is the transitional phase leading up to menopause, when the ovaries gradually produce less oestrogen and progesterone. It is characterised by hormonal fluctuations and irregular menstrual cycles, and leads to a decline in fertility and the onset of menopausal symptoms.
- Menopause is reached when a person's ovaries produce significantly lower levels of oestrogen and progesterone, and they have not had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months.
- Postmenopause follows menopause and starts when a person has been without a menstrual period for more than 12 months. During this time, the ovaries produce significantly reduced levels of oestrogen and progesterone. Once a person enters postmenopause, they remain in that stage for the rest of their life.
Natural menopause generally occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. However, some people can go into menopause prematurely due to certain medical treatments (e.g., chemotherapy), health conditions (e.g., primary ovarian insufficiency), and surgical removal of the ovaries.
What are the symptoms of postmenopause?
During postmenopause, some people may continue to experience the lingering effects of menopause, though the frequency and intensity of these symptoms tend to decrease over time as the body adapts to functioning on lower hormonal levels:
- Hot flashes and night sweats.
- Vaginal dryness and discomfort during intercourse.
- Changes in sex drive, including a decrease in libido.
- Sleep disturbances and insomnia.
- Changes in mood and emotional wellbeing, including sadness, irritability, and depression.
- Fatigue and decreased energy levels.
- Difficulty concentrating and memory issues.
- Changes in skin elasticity and appearance.
- Changes in hair texture and growth.
- Weight gain or changes in body composition.
- Joint pain and stiffness.
- Urinary incontinence.
- Bowel problems, such as constipation, increased gas, and bloating.
It is important to note, the onset, severity, and duration of these symptoms can vary from person to person, though you should seek medical advice if any of them begin to disrupt your daily life or overall health.
What are the complications of postmenopause?
Postmenopause can also increase a person's risk of several health conditions, including:
- Osteoporosis: Postmenopause increases the risk of osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones become thin, weak, and prone to fractures, as oestrogen is responsible for maintaining overall bone density, strength, and structure.
- Cardiovascular disease: Cardiovascular disease refers to any condition affecting the heart and blood vessels, including stroke and coronary heart disease. Postmenopause increases a person's risk of cardiovascular disease, as a decline in oestrogen levels can negatively affect cholesterol levels, blood vessel function, and lead to increased inflammation.
- Vaginal atrophy: Vaginal atrophy is a condition wherein the vaginal walls become thin, dry, and less elastic due to decreased oestrogen levels, which can lead to discomfort, pain during intercourse, and an increased risk of urinary tract infections.
These complications highlight the importance of staying proactive about your health during postmenopause and working closely with your healthcare provider to manage and mitigate any potential risks.
How to manage the symptoms and complications of postmenopause
There are several ways you can manage and mitigate the symptoms and complications of postmenopause, including:
- Lifestyle changes: Adopting a healthy lifestyle can significantly impact the symptoms of postmenopause. For instance, regular exercise and a balanced diet rich in calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients essential for bone health can help you stave off the effects of stress and osteoporosis while improving cardiovascular health and muscle strength.
- Hormone therapy (HT): Hormone therapy may be considered for women with severe menopausal symptoms. It involves the use of oestrogen, progesterone, or a combination of both, under a doctor's guidance, to alleviate various menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, and sleep disturbances.
- Vaginal moisturisers and lubricants: Over-the-counter vaginal moisturisers and lubricants can help manage vaginal dryness and discomfort during intercourse.
- Mind-body techniques: Incorporate stress-reduction techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises to promote emotional wellbeing and manage mood swings.
- Support networks: Share experiences and coping strategies with friends, family, or support groups. Connecting with others who have gone through, or are going through, similar experiences can offer validation, encouragement, and a sense of community, thereby making the process of navigating postmenopause more manageable and empowering.
- For some people, however, simple lifestyle changes are not sufficient to reduce their symptoms of fatigue. For people in this position, clinical trials could be considered as an alternative care option.
- Therapy: Therapy can provide a supportive environment to discuss and address emotional challenges, coping strategies for mood changes, and effective ways to navigate life transitions, thereby promoting resilience and emotional wellbeing.
- Avoid triggers: Identify and avoid factors that exacerbate the symptoms of postmenopause, such as caffeine, alcohol, or smoking
- Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water to support overall health, reduce the intensity of hot flashes, and help alleviate common postmenopausal concerns like urinary tract infections and constipation.
- Regular sleep patterns: Maintain a consistent sleep schedule to enhance the body's natural ability to fall and stay asleep, which can minimise the impact of sleep disturbances often experienced during postmenopause.
- Regular health checkups and screenings: Schedule regular visits with your healthcare provider to monitor your overall health, discuss symptoms, and address any complications or concerns that arise. You can also consider bone density screenings to monitor your bone health, as your doctor may need to prescribe medications to prevent or treat osteoporosis.
It's worthwhile noting, the experience of postmenopause can vary from one person to the next, and you should consult a healthcare professional in the first instance to tailor a management plan that best suits your specific needs and health considerations.
Postmenopause: How clinical research can help
As part of this management plan, your doctor may recommend taking part in a clinical trial, which form the cornerstone of medical innovation by investigating new treatments that could improve patient care and health outcomes, for everyone. At time of writing, we are recruiting for a groundbreaking clinical trial in conjunction with Monash University investigating the potential benefits of an approved testosterone therapy for women in preventing bone loss and improving libido for postmenopausal women already taking the standard dose of oestrogen. By participating in this trial, you not only gain access to potential new treatments but also contribute to shaping the future of menopausal healthcare. Your involvement could pave the way for improved health outcomes, thereby providing hope and empowerment to other people navigating this critical life stage. Visit our website now to learn more about the trial and see if you are eligible to participate.
A natural part of life, postmenopause can nonetheless burden people with numerous symptoms and complications, including hot flashes, changes in sex drive, and an increased risk of osteoporosis, diseases of the heart and blood vessels, and urinary and genital tract symptoms. However, in consultation with your doctor, you can incorporate effective strategies to navigate this transitional phase more harmoniously, including therapy, support networks, and adopting a healthy lifestyle. Your doctor may even suggest partaking in a clinical trial, which can help you gain access to potential new treatments while also contributing to groundbreaking medical research. By taking part in a clinical trial, like the one for which we are recruiting, you can enhance how postmenopausal symptoms and complications are managed and pave the way for a future where navigating postmenopause is an empowering journey, rather than a treacherous one.