For every woman, menopause is a natural condition that marks the end of menstruation. Women are born with all their eggs in well, two baskets called ovaries. Between the ages of 48 to 55, very few eggs (follicles) remain and the woman stops menstruating. Every woman is unique and the process she goes through leading up to the end of her reproductive abilities can be smooth or a living hell. So what actually happens within a woman’s body on the road to menopause?
The physiology of menopause starts many years before a woman has her final period. The approximate age a woman enters the menopausal transition (MT) can vary but is marked by a number of related physiological changes including:
- An increase in follicle-stimulating hormone or (FSH). FSH is a hormone produced in the pituitary gland that tells the ovary to “send down an egg” when the ovary doesn’t respond more FSH is dispersed hence the elevated FSH level.
- The large value of estradiol and estrone start to even out or drop as the menstrual cycle ceases.
- With the decrease in estrogens, the lining of the vagina begins to thin and become smooth.
- The ovaries and entire uterus begin to shrink in size.
- As a woman ages a general loss of pelvic muscle tone can occur which may result in a prolapse of the reproductive organs.
- If a woman was prone to endometriosis issues, menopause will usually cause relief and possibly an overall end to the condition.
- Toward the end of the menopausal transition osteoporosis is accelerated due to the very low levels of estrogens.
- Coronary artery disease can become an issue again due to the low levels of estrogens which helped protect the lining of the arteries prior to menopause.
- Potential cognitive conditions may increase due to the lack of estrogens. Recent research has started to show a correlation between lower estrogen levels and memory function.
So with all these changes going on inside a woman’s body, what symptoms will woman feel? Again, all women are unique. Some quietly pass through this time in life swiftly with little trouble while others are plagued with horrendous symptoms that can last years after menopause has officially ended. Here are some symptoms to be aware of:
- Hot Flashes and Night Sweats: These unpredictable, annoying flashes of elevated temperature seem to be one of the most annoying symptoms. Some have few others are relentlessly plagued.
- Insomnia: Many women experience a disruption in her sleeping patterns resulting in different degrees of insomnia.
- Weight gain and bloating: With years of fluctuation hormones, weight gain and associated bloating (especially around the belly) can become an issue.
- Mood changes: Again with a constant fluctuations of hormones, mood changes are very common.
- Headache: Headaches are typical side-effect during the menopausal transition.
- Depression: Because of the lack of sleep from the hot flashes and night sweats, serotonin levels tend to also fluctuate which over a long period of time can cause depression.
Menopause is a natural part of life for women. Yes, the symptoms can be irritating and at times very frustrating but the day will come when the transition will be over and you’re onto a whole new, exciting and carefree chapter in your life.