What Happens to My Hormones During Menopause?

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Women have a lot of hormones which are responsible for regulating important processes in their bodies such as menstrual cycles and pregnancy. Unfortunately, with age, these hormones tend to decrease and have an effect on their bodies. There are different stages during the transition to menopause. 


What Does Menopause Mean?

Menopause is defined as 12 consecutive months without a menstrual cycle. It is a normal process during ageing in women. The ovaries are the main reason for menopause to happen. The production of oestrogen and progesterone decreases as women age and this will lead to menopause. 


Why Does Menopause Happen?

Menopause is part of the ageing process in women, as a woman ages, the reproductive system cycle begins to slow down. The menstrual cycle has been continuously working since puberty. During the menstrual cycle, ovaries are responsible for releasing the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. Oestrogen and progesterone levels decrease during menopause. This will have an impact on the menstrual cycle, making it irregular during pre-menopause and stopping your cycle completely during menopause. 


Overview of The Hormonal System in Woman

The main sex hormones in females are oestrogen and progesterone. Ovaries and adrenal glands are responsible for the production of these hormones in women. During pregnancy, the placenta also produces oestrogen and progesterone. These hormones are responsible for preparing the uterine wall to nourish fertilised eggs during pregnancy. The hypothalamus and the pituitary in the brain play a role in regulating hormone levels in the body. The hypothalamus is located centrally in the brain and communicates with the pituitary gland.


What Does The Hypothalamus Do?

The hypothalamus is responsible for producing hormones. Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) is the most important hormone for reproduction. It is released by the hypothalamus every 60 to 120 minutes. Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) is produced by the pituitary gland when stimulated by GnRH. FSH is the hormone responsible start the development of a follicle “egg” inside the ovaries.  This will cause the level of oestrogen to rise. Luteinizing hormone (LH) helps to mature the “egg” and sends a hormonal trigger that will start ovulation and release the egg from the ovary.


What Organ Does Menopause Affect?

Ovaries are the organ which is affected by menopause. Ovaries will decrease the production of oestrogen and progesterone and stop releasing “eggs”. Menopause is diagnosed after 12 consecutive months without a menstrual cycle.


The Ovaries and Menopause

The production of “eggs” and hormones is the main function of ovaries. Before the start of a menstrual cycle, ovaries contain several million immature eggs. These eggs are constantly going through a process of development or loss. Some of the eggs will die before they are mature. This process of losing eggs will occur before the start of a menstrual cycle and even during.

The ovary continuously experiences an ongoing depletion of eggs throughout its lifespan. During puberty, the levels of FSH and LH increase and the “eggs” begin to mature with a follicle that surrounds them. One follicle will grow faster than the rest and is known as the dominant follicle. Oestrogen levels will rise as the follicle grows; this will inhibit the secretion of FSH. 

Once oestrogen levels reach a certain peak it produces a release of LH. This will result in the final maturation of the egg and allow ovulation to take place. The cells that were left in the ovaries will form the corpus luteum which will now produce progesterone to prepare the lining of the uterus for implantation. 


Hormonal Changes During Menopause

There is a decrease in oestrogen levels produced by the ovaries. A decline in progesterone levels will affect menstrual cycle patterns and moods. FSH levels will rise as the body will try to stimulate egg production. LH level will fluctuate. Androgens including the hormone testosterone will decrease, which will lower libido. Thyroid hormones might also change. 


Consequences of Hormonal Changes

Fluctuating levels of oestrogen and progesterone can cause a disruption in serotonin levels which can lead to mood swings. Lack of sleep can worsen mood swings and fatigue. Anxiety and depression can also cause sleeping problems during menopause. Hot flushes and night sweats can also contribute to sleeping problems. Lower oestrogen levels will lead to vaginal dryness and overall dry skin. This can be treated, and it is advised to see a healthcare professional specialising in women’s health to discuss hormonal replacement therapy. Weight gain is also a problem during hormonal changes, this is the result of a slower metabolism.

Hormonal imbalance can cause digestive problems since oestrogen is responsible for the microflora in the gut system. Collagen production will decrease which will negatively impact hair, skin and nail health and growth. Hormonal changes can also decrease bone density which can lead to osteoporosis. 


Are There Risks Associated With Hormone Replacement Therapy?

Hormone replacement therapy is not recommended if a patient has a history of breast or endometrial cancer. It is also not recommended if the patient is smoking or has a history of stroke, heart attack or blood clots. 

Taking oestrogen hormone replacement therapy can increase the risk of breast and endometrial cancer. Oestrogen and progesterone can also increase the risk of forming blood clots. Which will increase the risk of having a stroke or heart attack, the risk is especially high if a patient is a smoker taking hormone replacement therapy. 


Managing Hormonal Changes

When struggling with menopausal symptoms it is advised to seek professional help such as seeing a health care professional specialising in women’s health. Healthcare professionals can look at treatment options such as hormonal replacement therapy. 

Lifestyle modifications such as a healthy diet and regular exercise can also improve symptoms of menopause. Stress can be managed by using stress-coping mechanisms. Improving sleep patterns by reducing caffeine intake during the day and ensuring a comfortable sleeping environment. Natural supplements such as vitamin D and calcium can help improve bone density and decrease the risk of osteoporosis. 

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