Aging & Health A to Z
Lifestyle & Management
Essential Medical Care after Menopause
Though perimenopausal symptoms such as hot flashes usually end when you reach menopause, this doesn’t mean you should stop seeing your healthcare professional regularly once you’re postmenopausal. It’s very important that you continue to get regularly scheduled check-ups and exams.
Medicare covers an annual physical or “wellness visit.” During this visit your healthcare professional should check for signs of heart disease, osteoporosis, and other causes of health and disability in later life. Women run a significantly higher risk of heart disease after menopause. In fact, heart disease, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes is the leading killer of older American women. Your risk of osteoporosis rises significantly after menopause as well.
Screening for Breast, Cervical and Other Gynecological Cancers
A woman’s risk of developing breast cancer also increases in later life. The National Cancer Institute advises all women 50 or older to get a mammogram screening every year or two years. You should talk to your healthcare professional to determine how frequently you should have this important cancer screening test. He or she should also conduct a clinical breast exam, which involves checking the breasts and underarms for lumps and other changes.
Medicare covers annual mammograms, Pap tests, and pelvic exams which, screen for vaginal or cervical cancer. Most cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in women older than 50, so it’s extremely important to have Pap smears after menopause. If you’re 65 or older, your last Pap test was negative, and you haven’t had any new sexual partners since, you don’t need to continue getting the test. But if your situation changes later, and you have a new sexual partner, you should tell your healthcare professional. He or she may recommend resuming screening. The age at which to stop getting mammograms is more controversial, and is probably best determined by you and your care provider, considering your risks of breast cancer, your desire to have treatment if a cancer were found, and considering all the other health issues you have.
If you have any vaginal bleeding after menopause, you should tell your healthcare professional. You should do this even if the bleeding is very light and happens just once. Vaginal bleeding after menopause can be a sign of various health problems, including vaginal, endometrial and cervical cancer.
Vaginal and Uterine Problems
Continued vaginal dryness after menopause can be a sign of vaginal atrophy, or thinning and inflammation of the vaginal walls. This dryness can make sexual intercourse uncomfortable and painful. It can also be accompanied by itching or stinging in the lower vagina. Your healthcare professional may recommend estrogen creams that are applied to the vagina or prescribe tablets that are inserted and release estrogen into the vagina over time.
In later life, women may also experience uterine prolapse, in which the cervix or uterus are pushed outside the body through the vaginal opening. Prolapse causes pelvic and back pain, and may lead to urinary and fecal incontinence and difficulty voiding your bowels. Your healthcare professional can check for uterine prolapse during a standard pelvic exam. Special exercises to strengthen pelvic muscles can treat a mild prolapse. If the prolapse is serious, he or she may recommend a vaginal pessary, a ring-like device that fits into the vagina and helps keep the uterus in place. If the prolapse is particularly serious, your healthcare professional may recommend surgery to remove the uterus.
Updated: March 2012
Posted: March 2012