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Facing 50 and Menopause

By Freda Lewis-Hall, MD, FAPA - This article originally published on Get Healthy Stay Healthy

The last third of a woman's life can be a very rewarding and dynamic time. Menopause, the end of one's menstrual cycles, is an entry point into this time, and a great time to "pause" at the threshold to ensure you're taking steps to stay as healthy as you can for the duration.

The average woman reaches menopause at the age of 51; you'll know you are there if you have missed a full year's worth of periods. If you suspect you're entering menopause, it's a good time to see your doctor. He or she can work with you to make sure you receive some important and potentially life-altering screening tests. Life altering, because the post-menopause years can be associated with chronic diseases such as osteoporosis, heart disease, and diabetes. The good news is that these diseases may be easy to detect early and can be treated or even beaten with decisions you can make with your doctor and actions you can take.

The decline in estrogen that comes with menopause brings increased risk of developing osteoporosis, heart disease, weight gain, and vaginal dryness. A well-health check up each year, especially after 50, will help assure you are getting the healthcare you need — and will give you an opportunity to talk to your healthcare provider about life choices that can have a major impact on your health. There are a number of medical tests that are recommended you receive on a regular basis post-menopause. Armed with knowledge about your health status, you can take further actions to ensure your post-menopausal years are as healthy and productive as possible.

Tests related to heart disease:

  • BMI: Body mass index (BMI) is a widely used way to learn if you are overweight. A BMI between 18.5 and 25 indicates a normal weight and persons with a BMI of 30 or more may be obese, which can lead to diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Another way to evaluate weight issues is to measure waist circumference; if it measures greater than 35, you are at greater risk for heart disease, diabetes and several cancers.
  • Cholesterol: Have your cholesterol checked regularly, especially if you use tobacco, are overweight, have a personal history of heart disease or blocked arteries, or have a family member that has suffered a heart attack.
  • Blood pressure: High blood pressure can lead to strokes, heart attacks, kidney and eye problems, and heart failure. Blood pressure should be checked at least every two years.
  • Diabetes: If your blood pressure is higher than 135/80 or if you take medication for high blood pressure, get screened for diabetes

Tests related to cancer screenings:

  • Mammogram: Women over 50 should have this test every one to two years. If you're at high risk, you should ask about a digital mammogram and an MRI.
  • Colorectal: A yearly stool blood test or colonoscopy can detect this cancer. Your healthcare team can decide which test is best for you.

Tests related to bone health:

  • Bone Density — Women should have an initial bone density test to screen for osteoporosis(thinning of the bones) at age 65, or earlier if you're at risk.

Tests related to gynecological health: Many may think that past a certain age, you no longer need to go to an OB-GYN—but that’s not true.

  • Cervical cancer: Women over 21 should get a pap smear every 3 years until the age of 65. Women 30 years of age or older can choose to switch to a combination Pap smear and human papillomavirus (HPV) test every 5 years until the age of 65. If you are older than 65 or have had a hysterectomy, speak to your doctor about whether screening is still required.

Tests related to mental health:

  • Depression screening: Your emotional health is as important as your physical health. Talk to your healthcare team about being screened for depression especially if you have felt down, sad or hopeless or felt little interest in doing things.

After a screening test, it's important to ask when you will see the results and whom you should talk with about them. People with good physical and mental health can enjoy their older years and continue to be productive, vital members of their families and communities. And you can play an active role in making those years after age 50 as healthy as possible.

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