Everyone copes with changes as they age: wrinkles, memory lapses, body aches and pains. While some of these things are universal regardless of sex, women over 40 face unique health challenges all their own. Knowing what to expect is important, as is learning how to prevent serious illness and health complications to keep looking and feeling good for as long as possible.
After age 40, most women enter perimenopause, when hormones begin to fluctuate as the body prepares to transition into menopause. Changes in estrogen and progesterone, in particular, cause sleep disturbances, acne, headaches, weight gain, hair growth, dry skin, hot flashes, and more. There are emotional symptoms, too, like anxiety, short term memory loss, and mood swings. These symptoms can appear up to eight years before the onset of menopause.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), women between the ages of 40 and 44 face a 30% chance of infertility when trying to get pregnant. In contrast, women under the age of 34 have a 9% chance of infertility. Why? As a woman ages, she has fewer eggs, and those that she does have aren't as healthy. Plus, she's more likely to have other health conditions that could impact fertility.
Fluctuations in estrogen and insulin combine with decreasing thyroid levels in women over 40, which can cause increased hunger. Muscle mass also begins to decline, leading to decreased mobility and strength and burning fewer calories. The good news is that a healthy diet, adequate sleep, and a regular exercise routine can help counter some of these metabolic changes or ease their side effects.
Advanced maternal age has its own complications, too. Women over 40 who are pregnant are more likely to develop gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and preeclampsia, and have a miscarriage. A study by the University of Wuerzburg in Germany concluded that women over 40 have a greater chance of requiring a cesarean section and prolonged hospital stays after delivery.
A 2017 study from UCLA found that mental processing declined by 5% in the decade following the onset of menopause, indicating that cognitive decline could begin as early as the 50s. There are several ways to keep the mind sharp, though, including reading, drawing, and other activities that promote mental stimulation such as learning a new language, getting plenty of exercise, and eating a healthy diet. Having a strong social network helps, too.
Mammogram recommendations vary by age. The American Cancer Society recommends women between the ages of 40 and 44 be given the choice to begin annual testing. From 45 to 54, women can continue with yearly screenings but having a mammogram every two years is recommended. Women 55 and older should continue to have them every two years as long as they are in good health.
Bone loss or osteoporosis affects ten million Americans, and about 80% of them are women. Why are women significantly more likely to develop osteoporosis than men? Their bones tend to be smaller and thinner. Falling estrogen levels are also a big contributor. To counter the effects of osteoporosis, it's important for women to get enough calcium and Vitamin D, exercise, and avoid smoking and drinking.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women. It tends to show up later in life when a woman is in her 70s, but a lot of things can be done early on to lessen the risk: eat healthily, don't smoke, exercise, manage stress, and treat depression. Monitoring cholesterol levels, body mass index, and blood pressure are important as well.
Women are about twice as likely to develop osteoarthritis as men and symptoms start to appear when they're in their 40s and 50s. Weight, anatomy, and hormonal changes are all contributing factors. To minimize the risk of developing osteoarthritis, women should maintain a healthy weight, exercise daily, and see a doctor regularly to manage symptoms.
A lot of dramatic skin changes happen after age 40 due to the number of hormonal changes that occur. Skin can be dry, and age spots, wrinkles, and broken capillaries can start to appear. To prevent discomfort and keep skin looking as healthy as possible, stay hydrated, apply moisturizer, and always use sunscreen. Hormone therapy is also an option if recommended by a physician.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.