The Complications of Menopause,
When to See a Doctor
Contrary to what you might think, menopause can be a pleasant, natural transition into a new period of your life. During this time, the many symptoms a woman experiences may be a bit hard to get used to, but most are manageable, especially if you make the commitment to minor adjustments in lifestyle. There are some cases, however, that require a doctor’s advice and care. The following are just a few of these cases.
Heart Disease & Stroke
In 2006, almost three-quarters of a million women died from heart disease and circulatory diseases combined. Such diseases, which include heart attack and stroke, were responsible for more deaths than the nearest ten diseases combined. Prior to menopause, women have a lower risk for heart attack than men, but after age 50 (or when they reach menopause); their risk is very near that of men.
Estrogen has many benefits and protects women from heart disease and stroke prior to menopause by having the following positive effects:
- Cholesterol and Triglycerides: Several studies have demonstrated that estrogen lowers total blood cholesterol levels, particularly low density lipoprotein or LDL, the “bad” cholesterol and triglyceride fats. It also acts to increase levels of the high density lipoproteins or HDL, the “good” cholesterol.
- Blood Flow. Since estrogen has the effect of smoothing and widening blood vessels it can therefore lower blood pressure and increase blood flow.
- Antioxidant. A little know fact is that estrogen also acts as an antioxidant. It acts to scavenge free radicals typically released by certain processes in the body, which can cause notable damage to the arteries.
Therefore, the effect of a reduction in estrogen during menopause can cause significant damage if not carefully monitored and addressed.
Osteoporosis is a disease in which the bones lose density, becoming brittle. Many women in their 60’s develop osteoporosis and don’t even realize they have it. Beyond age 80, most women will suffer with it. This is a concern because of the potential for fracture in the spine and hip. Women at risk for osteoporosis should ask to have their bone density tested to measure bone mass. Estrogen has an effect on bone density in the following ways:
- Resorption: Estrogen appears to have the unique ability to prevent the bone from breaking down (resorption). Research has suggested that the life-span of the cells responsible for break down is extended by estrogen. These cells are called osteoclasts.
- Vitamin D: There has been one study that suggested that estrogen may be involved in maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D, a nutrient that is essential to the health of your bones.
- Risk factors: There are several risk factors that increase a woman’s chances of getting osteoporosis: Smoking, sedentary lifestyle, being tall, being Caucasian, and early menopause.
Gum Disorders and Tooth Loss
Speaking of bone density and bone loss, it is also important to address estrogen’s effect on periodontal disease. Bone loss in the bone which holds the tooth in place (alveolar) may be a major predictor of tooth loss in postmenopausal women. Periodontal or gum disease is the main cause of alveolar bone loss Also fairly common is the experience of a “funny” taste in your mouth described as salty, burning, acidic and spicy.
Some new research reveals that estrogen may have something to do with the greater number of lactobacilli (microorganisms) in the vagina, thereby helping to resist infection by preventing bacteria from adhering to vaginal cells. Whether or not this theory is validated by further study, it is widely known that the thinning of the vaginal walls and the associated dryness and irritation would explain why an aging woman would suffer from vaginal infections more than her younger pre-menopausal counterparts.
This symptom is not typically a complication that involves seeing a doctor; however more and more women are experiencing extreme negative psychological responses to middle-age and menopause. Whether or not this has to do with decreasing estrogen is unclear, however conditions such as anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder are very real to the sufferer and should be addressed by a professional.
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