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Does weight gain after menopause increase health risks?

Menopausal symptoms vary with every woman. Due to lessening hormone levels and the natural aging process, many women gain weight following menopause, which can result in health issues such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and insulin resistance. In addition, breast cancer risk goes up with weight gain, and women who gain more than 20 pounds after menopause increase breast cancer risk by 20 percent. Here is the good news: when women lose weight after menopause, your risk for breast cancer goes down.

Weight gain, especially around the abdomen, can increase the risk of many illnesses including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer. Some studies show that gaining even very small amounts, like 4 or 5 pounds, can increase the chance of breast cancer by as much as 30 percent.

Weight gain during and after menopause feels like cruel and unusual punishment after all those hot flashes. But we need to be myth busters first: Menopause and weight gain don’t always go hand in hand. Some women gain little or no weight at all during and after menopause, while others gain enough that their risk for cardiovascular disease becomes dangerously high. But how much weight you’ve gained isn’t the only factor. Where you carry that extra padding matters, too. If you gain body fat in the abdomen (you know a muffin top, beer belly, love handles), then you are at greater risk for inflammatory diseases like heart disease, diabetes, stroke, memory loss, impotence, joint abnormalities and cancer. But if you gain body fat around your hips (magazines call this pear-shaped), then you are less likely to get these diseases.

Bottom line: Weight gain can lead to some scary diseases, so keep eating right, getting your 10,000 steps a day, and managing your stress (as best you can).

Patricia Geraghty, NP
Women's Health

Increased weight increases risk for diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and joint problems. However, women may or may not gain weight during menopause. Weight gain is a recognized symptom of menopause (NAMS 2010 Position Statement, www.menopause.org) and weight gain is common, with 25 percent of women gaining at least 10 lbs in the early menpause years. Most women will say they have to make lifestyle changes to maintain their weight.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.