The years between 40 and 60 can be a really rewarding couple of decades but can also be complex in terms of the potential health issues and concerns you may need to address. By being aware of the various conditions which could affect you, you'll be able to look out for any symptoms and seek advice at the earliest opportunity.
The average age for women to experience the menopause is 52, but it can be significantly older or younger. Anyone whose menstruation ceases before the age of 45 is considered to be experiencing premature menopause. There are a variety of symptoms which can be experienced during menopause, both physical and mental, including mood swings, sleeping problems, vaginal pain and headaches. Some women don’t need medical treatment during their change of life, but if you are struggling with any symptoms, seek medical help as there are a number of options open to you, including hormone therapy, herbal treatments and medication.
Women aged between 25-49 are invited for cervical screening every 3 years and women aged 50-64 are invited every five years as part of the NHS Cervical Screening Programme.
A variety of cancers can affect women in their 40s to 60s including cancer of the cervix, uterus, ovaries, breasts and vulva. Women in this age group should still be going for their regular smear test and it is also recommended that you have a mammogram at least every three years, as well as checking for any changes in your breasts yourself. Symptoms of uterus and ovarian cancer include vaginal bleeding after menopause, pelvic pain, loss of appetite and lack of energy. If you have any concerns you should seek medical advice as an ultrasound, blood test, MRI or CT scan could either help put your mind at ease, or ensure you can start treatment as soon as possible.
Incontinence is an issue for many women in their 40s and 50s, and can stop you from living your life to the full. Due to the embarrassing nature of some of the symptoms, many women put off seeking treatment. Stress incontinence (bladder weakness) is the most common type of incontinence and in many cases can be treated with physiotherapy to strengthen pelvic muscles that may have been weakened by childbirth, heavy lifting, persistent constipation, a chronic cough or being overweight. If you suffer from urine leakage, a loss of urine when coughing or sneezing or the need to empty your bladder 6-7 times a day, seek medical advice.
Vaginal prolapse, when the walls of your vagina weaken, can affect women in their 40s and 50s for many reasons, including childbirth, loss of muscle tone due to ageing or the menopause. Often it goes undiagnosed and there are no symptoms, however, if you experience a feeling of heaviness or pulling in your pelvis or the sensation of a lump hanging into the vagina you should seek medical advice. A simple pelvic exam, or in some cases an ultrasound or MRI, will help identify any issues, and your doctor may refer you for physiotherapy, prescribe a vaginal pessary or recommend surgery.
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If you have a daughter in her teens or 20s, then you may be concerned about her health as well as your own. Take a look at our section on women’s health between 18 and 39 for more information about the conditions which could affect your loved ones.