Gynaecological Changes in Over 50s
Apart from ‘The Change’ itself, there are a variety of subtle, and some not so subtle changes that may occur during the years following the big five ‘O’. Certain age-related gynaecology changes are well documented but others are not so well-known and might therefore come as a bit of a surprise.
As hormone levels fall, certain physical changes will take place in the reproductive system. Vaginal walls become thinner, dryer and less elastic. They may become irritated and sometimes sex becomes painful due to these changes. Other symptoms of the years following menopause are not so obviously linked, but in many cases the cause may lie in hormonal changes. Headaches may be more frequent and you may also experience moments when your short-term memory lets you down. Breast tissue may decrease and you may even find that your sex drive and sexual response has diminished.
Another by-product of the later years is insomnia. Many women find that in the years following the change of life, they no longer enjoy a full night’s sleep.
Pelvic organ prolapse is one of the most common gynaecology problems for the over fifty/sixty age group and is often the result of muscle and soft tissue damage from the time of having babies. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists state that “half of women over 50 will have some symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse and by the age of 80 more than one in ten will have had surgery for prolapse.” They go on to say that prolapse is more common as you get older, particularly after the menopause. Being overweight can weaken the pelvic floor, as can constipation or prolonged heavy lifting.
Osteoporosis is another condition most of us know about and according to Arthritis Research UK, can be due to progressive bone loss in the years following menopause.
Jane Tadman, Communications Manager at Arthritis Research UK said: “In collaboration with the Medical Research Council we have set up a centre for musculoskeletal ageing research, which aims to understand how ageing results in the loss of musculoskeletal function and what role is played by factors such as inflammation, metabolism, hormones and obesity.”
Other complications of the passing years, sneezing and coughing, though not in themselves a problem, can begin to have unfortunate and embarrassing side effects. The leakage of urine that sometimes takes place can be due to relaxed pelvic floor muscles. It has also been suggested that the problem may be triggered by the loss of oestrogen following menopause but the jury is still out on the accuracy of this. Another possible cause is a condition known as overactive bladder syndrome. This can give rise to other incontinence problems.
As we age, and the menopause is behind us, our hormones can no longer give protection from the risk of heart disease. Due to lower oestrogen levels, women are vulnerable to all the same cardiology problems as men. NHS Choices give the following advice to women on minimising the risks.
- Have cholesterol and blood pressure checks.
- Stop smoking.
- Do more exercise, including aerobic exercise such as walking and swimming.
- Lose weight if you need to.
- Drink only moderate amounts of alcohol and stay within recommended limits.
- Eat a well-balanced diet.
- Manage your stress.
Despite the fact that GPs used to rely on HRT to avoid the increased risk of heart disease in post-menopausal women, the NHS line on this has now changed, and they now say that “research now suggests that HRT isn’t heart protective and, as with all drug treatments, there are side effects.”