We all know - or think we know - what to expect in the run-up to menopause, but how many of us know what happens afterwards?
Postmenopausal symptoms are still a bit of a taboo, but we think it's time that changed. After all, the average woman will be postmenopausal from the age of 51 until the end of her life - a period of time that could span more than three decades.
Read on to find out what to expect from your postmenopausal body...
How do I know if I'm postmenopausal?
Doctors define menopause as the point at which a woman has gone 12 months without having a period. From this point on, you can consider yourself postmenopausal. Most women reach menopause between their late forties and early sixties. In the UK, the average age is 51.
What changes can I expect post menopause?
1. Your hot flushes will stop - eventually
As your hormones settle down, so will perimenopausal symptoms like hot flushes. However, they may continue for up to 8 years - and things might get worse before they get better. "Leading up to menopause, your oestrogen levels fluctuate. When they're high, you don't have symptoms," gynaecologist Dr. Kevin Audlin explains. "But when you go into menopause and there's a complete lack of oestrogen, you start to notice those symptoms more."
2. Your breasts may look differen
Postmenopausal breasts may shrink, change shape, lose firmness and become more prone to lumps. Time to go for that bra fitting.
3. Your weight distribution will change
Fat is less likely to settle on the hips and thighs post menopause - but more likely to settle on the waistline. It's thought that the body attempts to ‘hoard' oestrogen in fat cells around the belly area, but experts warn that this kind of fat has been associated with diabetes, heart disease, stroke and even some cancers.
4. Sex may become more painful
Vulval and vaginal skin tends to become thinner and less elastic post menopause, which can make sex painful or uncomfortable. You'll also produce less lubricating mucus. 20-30% of postmenopausal women experience vaginal bleeding.
5. You might pee when you laugh
Oestrogen plays a key role in keeping the bladder, urethra and pelvic muscles in good working order, making loss of bladder control a common problem for postmenopausal women. Keep up those Kegel exercises, ladies.
6. You'll lose bone density
Bone loss speeds up post menopause. In fact, you could lose up to 20% of your bone density during the first 5-7 years after menopause, putting you at increased risk of osteoporosis and fractures. However, embarking on a strength training exercise programme and consuming plenty of calcium-rich foods can help.
7. Your blood pressure may rise
Oestrogen is thought to help keep blood vessels flexible. Post menopause, as levels of the hormone hit rock bottom, blood pressure tends to rise, along with ‘bad' LDL cholesterol, raising your risk of heart disease and stroke. Heart attack risk seems to rise about 10 years post menopause. Reduce your risk by taking regular exercise, limiting sugar and red meat and upping your intake of fruit, veg, whole grains, nuts and low fat dairy products.