Dear Dr Mitchell,
I am 53 years old and I think I'm just starting menopause. Should I be doing anything differently in terms of my physical and sexual health?
The average age of menopause is approximately 51 years old. The hormonal changes start several years before the actual menstrual period stops. The important thing to recognise is that as you approach menopause your risk of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes mellitus and cancer of the breast, ovaries, uterus and cervix increases.
It is important to control your weight, eat properly, exercise and maintain your regular checks with your doctor. Women who are overweight have an increased risk of both diabetes mellitus and hypertension. The risk for breast, ovarian cancer and cancer of the uterus is also increased in overweight women.
It is extremely important to have a yearly mammogram done in addition to a physical examination by your regular doctor. A pelvic examination and a Pap smear should be done as part of your yearly routine checks.
It is important to engage in a regular exercise routine as you get older as this reduces your risk of heart disease and a host of other medical problems.
Prolapse of the pelvic floor tends to increase as you approach menopause. This is due to low levels of oestrogen as the ovaries stop producing eggs and hormones. It is important to reduce heavy lifting, reduce belly fat, and treat any chronic cough or constipation that might be present. The extra stress on the pelvis from these conditions will increase your risk of prolapse.
Pelvic floor prolapse will result in problems with sexual activity and consequent relationship problems so it has to be dealt with properly. The best approach is prevention by lifestyle changes. It is also important to do your cholesterol and blood glucose test yearly so that dietary changes and appropriate treatment can be undertaken to reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes mellitus and hypertension.
Prevention of cervical cancer is critical and older women can reserve the vaccine for prevention of cervical cancer up to age 65. This is a three-dose vaccine schedule which is safe and effective. Cervical cancer is sexually transmitted and is caused by the human papillomavirus. The risk for this increases with age and can occur even if you discontinue sexual activity.
Consult your doctor who will advise you further.
Dr Sharmaine Mitchell is an obstetrician and gynaecologist. Send questions via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Ave, Kingston 5; or fax to 876-968-2025. All responses are published. Dr Mitchell cannot provide personal responses.
The contents of this article are for informational purposes only, and must not be relied upon as an alternative to medical advice or treatment from your own doctor.