What Is Menopause? – Women’s Health of Central Massachusetts

What Is Menopause?

The ovaries, two glands on either side of the uterus, make estrogen from puberty until menopause. Estrogen is made during the entire menstrual cycle. It causes the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) to thicken each month.

On about day 14 of your menstrual cycle, an egg is released from one of the ovaries. This is called ovulation. After ovulation, progesterone levels increase. If the egg is not fertilized, no pregnancy occurs. This causes the levels of estrogen and progesterone to decrease. This signals the uterus to shed its lining. This shedding is your monthly period.

As menopause nears, the ovaries make less estrogen. One of the earliest and most common signs that menopause may be approaching is a change in your menstrual periods. You may skip one or more periods. The amount of flow may become lighter or heavier. Bleeding may last a shorter or longer time than is usual for you.

Even though periods tend to be irregular around the time of menopause, you should be aware of bleeding that is not normal for you. This could be a sign of a problem. Talk to your doctor if you:

* Have a change in your monthly cycle
* Have very heavy bleeding with clots
* Have bleeding that lasts longer than normal
* Bleed more often than every 3 weeks
* Bleed after sex or between periods

At some point, the ovaries stop making enough estrogen to thicken the lining of the uterus. This is when the menstrual periods stop.

Menopause also can occur when a woman’s ovaries are surgically removed. This may trigger severe symptoms because the hormone levels decrease all at once.

Although the removal of the uterus (a hysterectomy) ends menstrual periods, it will not cause menopause unless the ovaries also are removed. If the ovaries remain after surgery, most women will go through menopause around the normal age.

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