- Coping With Short Term Effects of Menopause
- Menopause and Osteoporosis
- Menopause and Heart Disease
- Regular Physical Exams After Menopause
- Additional Resources and References
Ovaries: The ovaries are located on both sides of uterus. In addition to producing the hormones estrogen and progesterone, the ovaries also produce mature reproductive eggs (ova) that are released each month during ovulation in pre-menopausal women. If an egg becomes fertilized by sperm while it travels from the ovaries to the uterus through one of the Fallopian tubes, then it implants itself in the uterus where it will grow and evolve into a mature baby over the next nine months. If the egg is not fertilized by sperm, then it breaks down along with the uterine lining and is discarded during menstruation. Near menopause, the follicles in the ovaries become less responsive to the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which is responsible for preparing the egg for fertilization. When a woman reaches menopause, her ovaries reduce their production of estrogen and progesterone which usually results in irregular periods and other symptoms such as hot flashes, vaginal changes, sleep disturbances, etc.
Normal Female Reproductive Development
|8 weeks in utero||Around 8 weeks after conception, it is possible to distinguish a female fetus from a male fetus. The female reproductive organs develop before birth.|
|Age 6||As early as age 6, there are noticeable physical differences between girls and boys. In girls, the buttocks tend to be rounder, the shoulders are narrower, and the hips are wider.|
|Age 12||Age 12 is the average age of menarche (the first menstrual period). At this age, a girl is about halfway through puberty, the time when the breasts grow, the hips widen, and pubic hair appears. The onset of menstruation marks the beginning of the reproductive years. The menstrual periods may be irregular for the first 1-2 years.|
|Age 18||By age 18, most young women have reached their adult height, weight, and shape. Menstrual periods become more regular in most women by this time.|
|Ages 44-48||As a woman approaches menopause, her body produces less estrogen and progesterone. This depletion in hormone levels can cause irregular menstrual cycles, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and other menopausal symptoms. The length of this phase (called perimenopause) and the associated symptoms varies significantly from woman to woman.|
|Age 50||Between the ages of 48 and 52, most women reach menopause and are no longer able to bear children. After menopause, the vagina may grow smaller and less elastic, and the uterus and ovaries decrease in size. Typically, menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, decrease a few years after menopause.|
|Menopause||The final menstrual period, usually recognized 12 months or more after it occurs.|
|Pre-menopause||One to two years before menopause when menstrual periods become irregular; or, a term used to describe all of the reproductive years.|
|Peri-menopause||The years just prior to menopause when the menstrual periods become highly irregular.|
|Menopausal transition||See peri-menopause.|
|Natural menopause||The permanent cessation of menstruation that occurs without the influence of surgery or other actions that may induce menopause.|
|Premature menopause||Permanent cessation of menstruation that occurs significantly earlier than the general population (before age 35).|
|Induced menopause||Permanent cessation of menstruation secondary to surgical removal of the ovaries or therapy that destroys the function of the ovaries (i.e., pelvic radiation or sometimes chemotherapy).|
|Surgical menopause||Menopause induced by the surgical removal of both ovaries (oophorectomy).|
|Chemotherapy-induced menopause||Permanent cessation of menstruation directly caused by the administration of chemotherapy to treat cancer. In some women, chemotherapy may induce the temporary cessation of menstrual periods, with menses returning some time after the completion of chemotherapy (see temporary menopause).|
|Radiation-induced menopause||Permanent cessation of menstruation due to radiation therapy; usually only caused by direct radiation to the pelvic region.|
|Temporary menopause||Non-permanent cessation of menstruation; may be caused by chemotherapy, pelvic radiation, drug therapy, etc.|
|Post-menopause||The time period beginning after the last menstrual period.|
|Climacteric||The transition from the reproductive to non-reproductive years; typically begins with peri-menopause and lasts a few years after menopause.|
The symptoms of menopause vary significantly from woman to woman. Some women only experience mild menopausal symptoms while others have severe discomfort. The most common symptoms that signal that a woman is beginning the transition to menopause are irregular menstrual periods, hot flashes, and vaginal dryness.
Most women experience changes in their menstrual periods before they reach menopause. These changes may include longer or shorter menstrual cycles or the absence of menstruation (amenorrhea) for periods of time. On average, women experience changes in menstrual periods approximately two years before they reach menopause, although the time may be longer or shorter depending on the individual. It is important for women to report these changes to their physicians since, at times, irregular menstrual cycles can signal other health problems.
Hot flashes are a common symptom of menopause. Hot flashes may be accompanied by sweating, flushing, or heart palpitations. Hot flashes occur when estrogen is blocked in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls the bodyâ€™s thermostat. It is estimated that nearly 80% of menopausal women experience hot flashes. Hot flashes typically last up to two years after the final menstrual period.
During peri-menopause (the time period immediately before a woman reaches menopause), changes also occur in the vagina and urinary tract. Vaginal tissue becomes thinner, dryer, and less elastic, which may cause discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse. Urinary tract tissue also becomes less elastic, which may cause a release of urine during laughter, coughing, sneezing, or exercise. Many women also find that urinary tract infections occur more frequently during this time. Other menopausal symptoms may include mood changes, insomnia (sleep deprivation), depression, or anxiety. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can relieve many of these symptoms.