Bleeding after menopause is often a frightening, unexpected occurrence in post-menopausal women. According to the Woman To Woman Clinic in Yarmouth, Maine, up to 30 percent of women may experience bleeding or spotting after menopause. Given your history of menstruation, the sight of blood may not alarm you. However, once you've stopped your periods, bleeding may indicate an underlying condition that warrants investigation.
What Is Menopause?
The best chances for a successful pregnancy occur when a woman is in the peak of health. Once that peak has passed, the body's natural rhythm shifts. During menopause, a woman's reproductive system begins to shut down. Hormonal changes trigger a series of biological and physiological changes as a woman's reproductive life ends. Estrogen production slows. Menstruation stops.
How Long Does Menopause Take?
In clinical terms, a woman is in menopause when she has stopped having periods for 12 months. The process is a slow one. Menopause can last up to three years, with symptoms lingering up to 10 years in some women. Until a woman is clinically considered menopausal, bleeding from the uterus is still possible.
Causes of Bleeding After Menopause
Bleeding after menopause can have natural, normal causes or it can be an indication of a more serious condition. As during a woman's normal reproductive life, hormonal imbalances can trigger irregular bleeding. Use of hormonal therapy or birth control pills can cause spotting and changes in menstrual flow. Hormones prompt the uterus to thicken and mimic a menstrual period.
Your period is triggered by a delicate balance of hormone release from the ovaries and other structures such as the pituitary gland. Diseases that interfere with this balance can cause irregularities in monthly bleeding and the bleeding after menstruation has stopped.
Other Conditions That Cause Irregular Bleeding
Fibroids in the uterus are one cause of bleeding after menopause. Fibroids can generate the thickening of uterine walls associated with menstruation. These benign growths can slough off and cause spotting or bleeding.
Cancer of the Uterus
Conditions that are more serious are also possible. Cancer of the uterus attacks the lining of the uterus or endometrium. The cause of uterine cancer is an imbalance of the hormones estrogen and progesterone within a woman's body. The endometrium thickens as a result.
It is perhaps fortunate then that post-menopausal bleeding is a classic symptom of cancer. Detection is inevitable, often occurring in the earliest, most treatable stages of cancer. According to WebMD, most uterine cancer cases are detected early, leading to high survival rates.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Post-Menopausal Bleeding
The first step when faced with post-menopausal bleeding is to stay calm and consult your doctor. Remember that post-menopausal bleeding can have benign causes. Stress or a poor diet can trigger bleeding. Examine your diet and look for ways to boost nutrition such as taking a multi-vitamin formulated for senior women.
To diagnose a cause for the bleeding and rule out cancer, your doctor will likely recommend a biopsy. A biopsy uses a procedure similar to a routine pap smear, but lasts longer. She will collect samples and send them to an outside laboratory for analysis.
Your doctor may also order blood tests such as a complete blood cell count or a cancer antigen CA-125 test. She may also recommend x-rays or a CT scan. These non-invasive methods are preferable before surgery.
If cancer is detected, surgery is the most common treatment option. Depending upon the stage and aggressiveness of the cancer, your doctor may also recommend a lymphadenectomy to remove lymph nodes. Radiation is another alternative treatment.
Take post-menopausal bleeding as a sign that your body needs attention. With any unusual bleeding, consult your doctor. Most of all don't panic. Listen to your body and your doctor's advice.