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9 surprising postmenopausal health risks you can’t ignore

From gum disease to sleep apnoea and more, the hormonal changes of menopause can make women more vulnerable to certain conditions. Here’s what may be in store – and what can be done about it.

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Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis
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Unfortunately, the longer your body goes without a menstrual period, the higher your risk of osteoporosis and fracture. Oestrogen plays a big role in maintaining bone density. Some 20 to 30 per cent of bone loss in women occurs in the first five years after menopause, which can lead to increased risk of fractured hips and bone density issues.
 
Perhaps, what’s worse, many postmenopausal women are in denial about their personal risk, according to an International Osteoporosis Foundation survey of women in 11 countries. And this means they don’t take steps to safeguard those bones, including eating a calcium-rich diet, performing weight-bearing exercises and strength-training, and limiting too much sodium as well as beverages (alcohol, soft drinks, coffee) that leach calcium from bones.
 
Check out these 19 things you can do in under 10 minutes to help you live longer.
 

Gum disease
Gum disease
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Believe it or not, oestrogen can even impact those pearly whites. The same process that leads to bone loss in the spine and hips can lead to the loss of the alveolar bones in the jaw. The result: loose teeth, tooth loss and periodontal disease, which women are more susceptible to after menopause, according to a study published in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. In addition, “many postmenopausal women note dry mouth, pain or burning in the gum tissue as well as altered taste for salty, peppery or sour foods,” says menopause specialist Dr JoAnn V. Pinkerton. Now more than ever, good oral hygiene counts.
 
Gum disease is also one of the 13 common illnesses that have been linked to Alzheimer's.
 

Sleep apnoea
Sleep apnoea
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Sleep apnoea is pretty common for postmenopausal women but, unfortunately, nearly 90 per cent of women are not diagnosed, says Dr Pinkerton. Unlike men, women may not have the hallmark signs of the sleep disorder – snoring, pauses of breath and excessive daytime sleepiness, for instance. Instead, they may experience such atypical symptoms such as insomnia, morning headache, fatigue, tiredness, depression and anxiety, she points out. Here are the 9 silent signs of sleep apnoea you may be ignoring.
 
 

Diabetes
Diabetes
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Diabetes hits women hard, and if you began menopause before age 46 or after 55, you can be more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Low oestrogen, known to increase insulin resistance and trigger cravings, is believed to play a role in weight gain after menopause. What’s more, high blood pressure during pregnancy (pre-eclampsia), diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes) or polycystic ovary syndrome raise the risk even more. Get tested every three years starting at age 45, especially if you’re overweight. Take heed of these 21 hints and tips for eating well with diabetes.
 

Heart disease
Heart disease
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The oestrogen your ovaries produce before menopause provides powerful protection for your heart. It increases HDL (‘good’) cholesterol and lowers LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol; dilates blood vessels so that blood flow increases; and prevents high blood pressure (a major cause of stroke) and cholesterol-laden plaque, which causes coronary heart disease. It makes sense then that a marked reduction of oestrogen after menopause makes your risk of heart disease climb. Thankfully, being heart-smart by quitting smoking, eating a plant-based diet and regularly exercising 30 minutes per day has big preventative pays-offs. Here are the 15 mind-blowing ways your body heals after you quit smoking.
 

Eating disorders
Eating disorders
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That three- to four-kilogram weight gain common during ‘the change’ can certainly be a trigger for women with a predisposition for or past history of disordered eating. And research supports this. A study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that the menopausal transition (with its hormonal fluctuations and body composition changes) is linked to increased eating disorders and negative body image.
 

Autoimmune disorders
Autoimmune disorders
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Although the reasons are unclear, researchers found that the risk of developing autoimmune diseases – including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Graves’ disease, scleroderma and thyroiditis – rises after menopause. “Women have two X chromosomes and defects in the X chromosome may make some women more susceptible to developing autoimmune disorders,” Pinkerton explains. Evidence suggests that plummeting oestrogen levels play a role, too.
 

Urinary problems
Urinary problems
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Urinary incontinence (involuntarily urine leakage when you laugh or sneeze) is particularly common after menopause. This is likely due to the thinning of the urethra (caused by declining oestrogen) as well as weakened pelvic floor muscles (a result of childbirth), Pinkerton says. You’re also more prone to recurring urinary tract infections (UTI), according to a study from the Washington University School of Medicine. That’s because oestrogen also helps keep bacteria out. Some preventative steps: do those Kegels, drink plenty of fluids and hit the ladies’ room before and after sex.
 

Liver disease
Liver disease
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Declining oestrogen and increasing age make it harder for your liver to repair from the harmful effects of alcohol, infections or excess fat. “Women are more susceptible to organ damage from alcohol,” Pinkerton says. Women can also develop alcohol-induced liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis, which according to animal research, may all be related to oestrogen, she adds. Here are 9 more signs that your liver may be in big trouble.
 



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