During the years leading up to postmenopause, many women experience a variety of common symptoms, which range from bothersome to uncomfortable. These include:
- Hot flashes
- Mood swings
- Lowered libido or loss of libido
- Vaginal dryness
- Trouble sleeping
During the postmenopause years, however many of these symptoms will likely fade away. For instance, you will not have hot flashes, and if you have mood swings or trouble sleeping because of changing hormone levels, then this may also stop. In fact, many women report that once they became postmenopausal, they had renewed energy and overall feeling of well-being.
On the other hand, however, some women report feeling a few lingering symptoms, perhaps due to still fluctuating hormone levels, which in some cases can last for as long as 10 years after menopause. Here are some of the more common and less common postmenopause symptoms:
Vaginal Changes. As the estrogen levels in the body fall, the tissues lining the vagina become thinner and dryer. This can cause:
- Pain during sexual intercourse (which can begin in perimenopause)
Once a woman’s body starts producing less estrogen, vaginal walls my thin, and cause dryness, which can lead to bothersome itching, soreness and pain during intercourse. These symptoms can be successfully treated, however, with lubricants or vaginal estrogen rings. If you experience discharge that has blood in it, there may be something else going on, and you should seek medical attention.
Weight gain is one of the most common postmenopausal symptoms—many women gain between 10 to 20 lbs., even though they have not changed their regular diets. Hormone changes are the primary reason for this—lower estrogen levels allow the body to retain more fat cells in an attempt to naturally boost estrogen levels. As well, psychological factors like depression, anxiety, or stress can also add to postmenopausal weight gain.
Stress or urinary incontinence
As many as 40% of postmenopausal women have stress incontinence—a condition which lead to a loss of bladder control, that accompanies physical exertion such as coughing, sneezing, laughing, or lifting something heavy. Estrogen supports the strength of bladder muscles, and as levels decline, the chances for stress incontinence increase. Here’s something that can be done to counter the effects of stress incontinence: kegel exercises, which can strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. These are the muscles that control the flow of urine, and hold your pelvic organs in place.
Kegel exercises: By squeezing the muscles in the pelvic floor—the same ones that can start and stop the flow of urine—you can strengthen the muscles that prevent your bladder from leaking. Kegel exercises are easy to do and can be done anywhere, at any time, without anyone knowing. An added benefit is that this can increase sexual satisfaction and make your orgasms stronger!
- Find the muscles you use to stop urinating midstream—these are your pelvic floor muscles. The act of stopping and restarting the flow of your urine is the essential movement involved with kegel exercises
- Squeeze these muscles for 5 seconds. Then relax for 10 seconds. Work to isolate this muscle movement to your pelvic floor muscles—try not to clench your thigh or stomach muscles for best results
Repeat this movement 10 to 15 times per session. As you get more accustomed to doing kegels, trying doing them at least 3 times a day.
Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)
As estrogen levels decrease, there is increased risk for developing UTIs. Estrogen is key in maintaining the acidity level of the vagina, and as it decreases a woman’s vagina is at greater risk for bacteria that can travel to the urethra and cause a UTI. Easily treatable with antibiotics, UTIs are not usually serious—but if you experience pain or burning when urinating, be sure to speak with your healthcare professional.
Skin texture changes
As hormones fluctuate, changes in skin often occur, sometimes leading to acne, or increased wrinkles.
Hair growth in unexpected areas
Since testosterone levels increase in postmenopause, it is not unusual for a postmenopausal woman to experience hair growth on the chin, chest or upper lip.
Hormonal fluctuations can affect sleep, causing trouble with both falling and staying asleep. Doctors often recommend chamomile tea or warm milk to help the body get ready for sleep. While not as common as during menopause, this can still be a bothersome symptom in the postmenopause years.
Common during perimenopause and menopause, postmenopausal women typically experience a marked drop in frequency and number of hot flashes when they enter postmenopause. But they can still occur. Talk to your doctor if hot flashes become more frequent or become more intense as it could be a sign of something else.
Heavy bleeding is rare after menopause and could be a sign of something more serious, like certain types of cancer, and should always be evaluated by a physician.