Most women have probably heard menopause described as a horror story of symptoms with dreaded hot flashes topping the list. Menopause is often called “the change” because the start of menopause marks the beginning of a new chapter in a woman’s life when bearing a child is no longer possible.
While the changes that take place leading up to menopause can be uncomfortable and distracting, the first thing to remember about menopause is that it is a normal, natural part of life that all women experience. Typically, menopause occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 although the symptoms of menopause can begin several years earlier. The average age for menopause is 51.
How hormones work
To understand why menopause happens, you first need to understand how the female reproductive system works. When a girl goes through puberty, her body begins producing higher levels of the hormones that will regulate her reproductive cycles as she becomes a woman. Hormones are chemicals created by the body to control various functions. When the brain sends out the signal, hormones are released to carry the message to the appropriate organ or gland. One important source of hormones in a woman’s body is the ovaries. In addition to making and releasing eggs each month, the ovaries produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone that help get the uterus ready each month so an egg can implant if it is fertilized.
Estrogen and progesterone work together to thicken the walls of the uterus and encourage extra blood vessels to grow to prepare the body for possible pregnancy. Each month, if an egg does not get fertilized and implant in the uterus, the hormone levels drop off which triggers the extra blood vessels in the uterus to retract. This causes the thickened lining to drop away and leave the body as part of the woman’s menstrual flow or period.
Hormone changes during pre-menopause
As a woman reaches her 30s and 40s, the ovaries start to release fewer eggs and production of hormones decreases. This time when hormone levels are tapering off is sometimes called perimenopause or pre-menopause.