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The menopause occurs when the ovaries no longer respond to the controlling hormones released by the pituitary gland of the brain. As a result, the ovaries fail to release an egg each month or produce the female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone.
It is the fall in the levels of these hormones in the bloodstream that gives rise to the symptoms of the menopause.
Many women experience symptoms of the menopause and irregular periods for several years up to the menopause itself. This is called the climacteric and represents the gradual decline in the normal function of the ovaries.
One of the common problems of the climacteric is that periods become erratic both in spacing and the amount of bleeding. Until periods peter out altogether, heavy bleeding can cause problems. If you are experiencing this, you should consult your doctor.
Every woman experiences the menopause differently. Many women hardly notice the change, except perhaps their periods become irregular. Others suffer every symptom and are severely affected.
Some of the symptoms are:
Hot flushes and sweating - these can happen at any time and usually last for 3 - 6 minutes. Hot flushes are caused when the automatic controls of the nervous system become erratic.
Sleep disturbance - this is usually caused by night sweats as some women find they sweat excessively during the night. Sleep can also be disturbed as some women find it difficult to fall asleep.
Psychological and physical changes can occur during the menopause. Depression, mood swings, tiredness or headaches are all possible symptoms of the menopause. During the menopause, your skin will become thinner, you may find that you have a decreased libido, you may need to pass water more frequently and you may find that a lack of oestrogen causes vaginal dryness. Osteoporosis can also be a symptom of the menopause as the decrease in oestrogen levels which normally stimulate the bone building cells causes women to lose bone mass and strength for several years after the menopause.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) can alleviate the symptoms of the menopause by adjusting hormone levels. This involves taking a small dose of oestrogen with or without progesterone each day. If you are suffering from symptoms of the menopause, you should consult your doctor.