Updated 20 July 2014

What happens during menopause?

So what actually happens when you become menopausal? What happens to your body and how does this affect you?

This is the stage of a woman's life when the ovaries stop producing eggs regularly. Production of the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone declines, and menstruation decreases and eventually stops.

The term “menopause” means cessation of menstruation. It is also sometimes called "change of life".

Menopause is the beginning of a distinct life phase, with its own particular health issues.

Symptoms of menopause
Menopause-related changes, or symptoms, usually begin approximately six years before natural menopause. Fluctuations in the levels of hormones produced by the ageing ovaries lead to physiological short-term changes.

As the ovaries become less functional they produce less oestrogen, a state to which the body subsequently reacts. Because oestrogen affects large portions of the body, hormonal changes are felt in a number of ways. For some women the associated discomforts are minimal, while others must deal with severe symptoms and risk factors for disease.

A gradual decrease in oestrogen allows the body to slowly adjust, and symptoms may come on slowly and be subtle. In some women, however, a sudden decrease occurs, causing severe symptoms. This often happens with surgical menopause.

Some women experience few or no symptoms; others experience various symptoms ranging from mild to fairly severe. About 75 to 95% of women experience some symptoms; up to 50% and more report that symptoms interfere with daily life. They may last from a few months to several years. Larger women may have fewer symptoms because fat cells manufacture a form of oestrogen. If symptoms occur, they may include:

  • Hot flushes (hot flashes)
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Urinary tract problems
  • Changes in menstrual patterns
  • Increased premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms
  • Mood Changes
  • Fluctuations in sexual desire or response
  • Forgetfulness
  • Fatigue and/or Insomnia
  • Decreasing fertility
  • Body and skin changes

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