The Cycle of Menopause Hormone Changes
Women undergo a series of hormonal changes throughout their lives. One of the most dramatic of these is menopause.
This article explains the key hormone changes that occur during menopause, what to expect, and how to cope with them.
What is Menopause?
The official definition of menopause is 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period. However, many people also use the term to describe the hormone changes that occur in the years leading up to this point. This period is also known as the climacteric period or perimenopause.
The average age of menopause in industrialized countries is 51. However, hormone changes can begin many years before this, sometimes in a woman’s mid to late 30s. Let’s take a closer look.
The Cycle and Stages of Hormone Changes During Menopause
Throughout their reproductive years, women undergo hormonal changes on a monthly basis. They include fluctuations in estrogen, progesterone, luteinizing hormone (LH), and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). These hormones play a role in regulating the menstrual cycle and maintaining pregnancy, should it occur.
As a woman approaches menopause, this monthly cycle becomes less regular. Furthermore, the overall levels of these hormones begin to change.
Experts consider there to be four distinct stages of perimenopause and menopause. These are listed below with their corresponding hormone changes:
The Late Reproductive Stage
- Estrogen and FSH levels become variable
- Menstrual cycles remain regular or become slightly irregular
- Estrogen and FSH levels become increasingly variable
- Menstrual cycles become increasingly irregular
- Menopausal symptoms may begin to appear
- Estrogen levels decrease
- FSH levels increase
- Menstrual cycles are irregular (60 days or more)
- The probability of menopausal symptoms increases
- Estrogen and progesterone levels are low
- FSH and LH levels are high
- No menstrual periods occur for 12 months or more
- There is a strong possibility of menopausal symptoms
Other relevant hormones include inhibin B and anti-mullerian hormone (AMH). Both of these are indicators of how many eggs remain in the ovaries, and their levels decrease throughout perimenopause and menopause.
Symptoms of Hormone Changes
Estrogen plays a crucial role in many physiological functions. Therefore, as its levels decrease, women may experience a variety of physical and psychological symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms of menopausal hormone changes include:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Mood changes
- Vaginal dryness and atrophy
- Reduced libido
- Aches and pains
- Weight gain
Furthermore, estrogen has a protective influence over many of the body’s tissues, including the bones, cardiovascular system, and brain. Therefore, following menopause, women have an increased risk of developing several chronic diseases, including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
However, it is not all bad news. Many women enjoy the freedom of no longer having periods. Moreover, those who previously suffered from hormone-related issues such as pre-menstrual syndrome or migraines may also find some relief.
What to Expect From Menopausal Hormone Changes
Menopause is a very individual process and every woman will have a unique experience. While some suffer from debilitating symptoms, others are barely aware of their hormone changes. Many factors play a role in this, including:
- Overall state of health
- Lifestyle (including diet, exercise, smoking, etc.)
- Body weight
For example, genetics play a vital role. Women can get some idea of what to expect by discussing menopause with close female relatives who have already been through the experience.
Furthermore, being active, eating well, and not smoking are associated with fewer menopausal symptoms. Therefore, it is possible to make the menopausal transition smoother by establishing healthy habits.
Coping Tips for Menopausal Hormone Changes
There are many methods of coping with menopausal hormone changes. The most appropriate options will depend upon each woman’s individual needs and expectations. Generally speaking, some of the most helpful coping strategies include:
As we already mentioned, lifestyle plays a crucial role in managing the symptoms of hormone changes. It is important to maintain a healthy body weight, exercise regularly, and eat a balanced diet. Stopping smoking and limiting alcohol consumption can also help.
For the best results, women should start implementing these changes in their 30s, before menopause symptoms begin. However, introducing them at any time will still be beneficial.
Setting the Right Attitude
It is important to adopt a positive attitude toward the menopause and aging in general. It is impossible to prevent them, so it is much more helpful to embrace them and their potential gifts.
For example, many women report becoming more self-confident and assertive following menopause. Others enjoy the sense of wisdom that comes with entering the next stage of life.
Identifying Environmental Factors
Women may wish to adjust their home and work environments to accommodate hormonal changes. For example, those suffering from hot flashes could invest in electronic or manual fans. Those experiencing insomnia may wish to purchase more comfortable bedding, blackout curtains, and so on.
Various therapies may help women to cope with the impact of hormonal changes. Some of the most popular options include acupuncture, massage, and talking therapies.
Doctors can prescribe hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for women experiencing severe symptoms. These drugs usually involve estrogen, progesterone, or a combination of the two. There are also a variety of dosage forms, including pills, patches, and creams.
Some women are concerned about the side effects and risks of HRT. However, in many cases they are considered safe to use for a limited period of time. Women interested in trying HRT should consult their physician to discuss the most appropriate options.
Some women would prefer to try a more natural route and experiment with herbal remedies. Popular choices include soy isoflavones, black cohosh, and evening primrose oil. However, the evidence to support these remedies’ effectiveness is very limited.