by Lindsay Latteman, MD, OB/GYN at Stellis Health
Most people know the basics about menopause. It often is mentioned in vague terms – known as “the Change of Life” or “the Change.” But we often don’t talk about what happens after menopause, what to expect, or when to be worried.
Menopause refers to the time in a woman’s life when she stops ovulating (producing eggs) and is no longer able to get pregnant. Nationally, the average age of menopause is 51 years old, but for some women it can happen in their mid-40s and some women continue to have periods until almost 60 years old.
Menopause causes many changes to a woman’s body, but the biggest one is that she no longer gets her period every month. In the year or two leading up to menopause, many women notice that their periods start to change – either by how long they last, or how frequently or regularly they arrive. Doctors officially consider a woman having gone through menopause once she goes 12 months without a period.
All this business about periods is actually very important. Once a woman has stopped having periods due to menopause, any following episodes of vaginal bleeding should be a cause for concern. Bleeding after menopause is never normal, and you should see your doctor or a gynecologist right away. Some of the causes of bleeding in menopause are benign, like having a polyp in your uterus, having an infection, or sometimes even from the changes to the lining of the uterus from menopause. However, bleeding in menopause can be one of the earliest signs of uterine cancer. This cancer is the most common gynecologic cancer in women and is often diagnosed very early. The cure for uterine cancer is finding it early and having surgery to remove the pelvic organs (a hysterectomy).
Not everyone that has bleeding after menopause has cancer! However, we know that finding cancer earlier makes it easier to treat and more likely to improve the outcome for the patient.
So, ladies – pay attention. If you’ve been through “the Change” but notice that you’ve had some vaginal bleeding, see your doctor right away. It might be nothing, but it also might save your life!