For women in their 50’s, menopause is a normal event. Most women adjust to the physical changes with little if any impact on their quality of life, or activities. Most symptoms associated with menopause are resolved within a year or two.
Only a few studies have looked at the effects of premature or early menopause on long-term health. This section provides a brief guide to the findings to date.
Premature or early menopause may increase the risk of heart disease. This means that exercise, weight control, treatment for high blood pressure, a balanced diet, and stopping smoking are likely to be very important in women experiencing early menopause.
Loss of oestrogen at menopause may increase the risk of osteoporosis (thinning or weakening of the bones). The risk of osteoporosis can be increased further by some breast cancer drugs such as aromatase inhibitors (used for women who are post-menopausal). Weakening of the bone may be avoided if women are taking tamoxifen.
Women with a family history of osteoporosis, who smoke, are underweight, have hyperthyroidism, have taken steroids, or are taking aromatase inhibitors are at particular risk of osteoporosis.
If a woman is at increased risk of osteoporosis, a doctor may measure her bone density before prescribing a hormonal therapy. Doctors will consider a woman’s risk of osteoporosis when recommending hormonal therapy.
What can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis?
There are a number of effective strategies for avoiding osteoporosis including:
- a balanced diet that contains enough calcium (1,200 mg/day) – a glass of milk or small tub of yogurt contains about 250 mg of calcium
- adequate Vitamin D – this means being in direct sunlight for 5–15 minutes 4–6 times a week
- stopping smoking
- drinking no more than 2 standard drinks of alcohol per day
- doing regular weight-bearing exercise, for example walking, playing tennis or dancing, for at least 30 minutes, 2–3 times a week*
- resistance training, such as exercise with weights*.
*It’s important to talk to a health professional before starting any new activity after treatment for breast cancer and to build activities slowly.