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Menopause is natural biological process that generally begins between the ages of 45 and 55 years. Perimenopause is the transition period during which a woman begins to experience menopausal signs and symptoms. The ovaries stop producing eggs and produce less estrogen and progesterone, and menstruation becomes less and less frequent. Perimenopause can continue for four to five years or longer. Once menstruation has stopped completely for 12 months, a woman has officially reached menopause. The years that follow are considered postmenopausal.
The hormonal changes that occur during menopause bring about several physical symptoms such as hot flashes and skin flushing, night sweats, sleep disturbances, mood swings, vaginal dryness, and decreased sex drive. The specific symptoms experienced and the severity of these symptoms can vary greatly.
After menopause, the risk of some medical conditions increase, and taking steps to reduce the risk of these conditions becomes even more important.
Cardiovascular Disease: A woman's risk of heart disease increases after menopause due to reduced estrogen levels. There are many diet and lifestyle changes that can offset this increased risk. Eating a diet low in saturated and trans fats and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods, along with moderate exercise can reduce the risk of heart disease. Read more about heart-healthy diet and lifestyle choices.
Osteoporosis: During the first several years after menopause, bone density can decrease at a more rapid rate. Calcium and vitamin D needs are increased for postmenopausal women, and weight-bearing exercise is important to decrease bone loss and fracture risk. Read more about osteoporosis and steps you can take to decrease your risk.
Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs): Menopause increases the risk of having a UTI because the reduced level of estrogen permits the overgrowth of bacteria in the area of the urinary opening. The bacteria can enter the urinary tract and ultimately cause an infection. Read more about UTIs and ways to decrease your risk.
Weight Gain: Unfortunately, weight gain is common during and after menopause. Even with the same food (calorie) intake and physical activity level, it becomes more difficult for many postmenopausal women to lose or maintain their weight. Weight gain around the "middle" or abdominal region is common. To combat this tendency toward weight gain, try increasing the intensity or time of your exercise routine and adding weight training to your regimen.