Aging & Health A to Z
Lifestyle & Management
Essential Medical Care after Menopause
Though symptoms such as hot flashes usually end when you reach menopause, this doesn’t mean you should stop seeing your healthcare provider regularly once you’re postmenopausal. The risk of several diseases, including heart disease and osteoporosis, increases significantly after menopause. So it is important to continue getting regular check-ups. The risk of heart disease increases significantly after menopause in women, which can lead to heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women in the U.S. Osteoporosis, or thinning of the bones, also increases after menopause. Osteoporosis puts you at risk of bone fractures, which can lead to disability, and sometimes to the need for nursing home care.
Screening for Breast, Cervical and Other Gynecological Cancers
Recommendations for screening for breast cancer with mammography, and cervical cancer with Pap tests are discussed above. Your healthcare provider will talk with you about whether and how frequently you should have these tests. (Also see Prevention for more information on screening tests.)
At this time, screening for ovarian cancer has not been shown to reduce the risk of dying from cancer, and is not recommended. Women who have a family history of ovarian cancer are at higher risk, and screening may be appropriate for them.
Vaginal and Uterine Problems
Vaginal atrophy is thinning and inflammation of the vaginal walls. Continued vaginal dryness after menopause can be a sign of vaginal atrophy. This dryness can make sexual intercourse uncomfortable and painful. It can also be accompanied by itching or stinging in the lower vagina. Your healthcare provider may recommend topical estrogen. These are creams, tablets, or rings that are inserted into the vagina and release estrogen over time.
In later life, women may also experience uterine prolapse. This is when the cervix or uterus are pushed outside the body through the vaginal opening. Prolapse causes pelvic and back pain, and may lead to bladder and bowel problems, including difficulty passing urine or stool, or loss of control. If the amount of prolapse is mild, exercises to strengthen the pelvic muscles may help with symptoms. For more severe prolapse, a pessary may be used. A pessary is a ring-like device that fits into the vagina and helps keep the cervix or uterus in place. Sometimes, surgery is needed for severe prolapse.
Skin problems of the vagina and vulva, such as itching or burning, can also affect women after menopause. Your healthcare provider may refer you to a dermatologist or gynecologist to help with these problems. Often, skin irritation can be treated with creams containing estrogen, steroids, or antifungal medications. Leakage of urine, or urinary incontinence, can irritate the skin of the vagina and vulva as well. So it is important to pay careful attention to protecting the skin from prolonged exposure to urine. Other strategies to help protect the skin and reduce irritation include wearing cotton underwear, and avoiding soaps, lotions and other products with fragrances or other allergens. Taking an antihistamine may help reduce itching, and wearing cotton gloves at night can prevent scratching during sleep.
If you have any vaginal bleeding after menopause, you should tell your healthcare provider. 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, or cervical cancer.
Updated: July 2017
Posted: March 2012