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The Menopause – What’s Going On?

Posted Aug 22 2012 4:06pm
Knowledge is power! If you don’t presently know a great deal about your hormones, past a certain awareness that you have some and they can be blamed for pretty much anything that goes wrong, then you may feel a greater degree of control when you understand what is going on in your body right now, and how best to deal with it.
During your menstruating years oestrogen levels rise during the first two weeks of your cycle (which is counted from the first day of your bleed), thickening the lining of the womb to prepare it for the possible implantation of a fertilised egg. Oestrogen levels reach a peak at ovulation, usually around two weeks into the cycle, and then gracefully subside for the next two weeks. An egg is released from one ovary and heads up the fallopian tube. At this point, progesterone starts to be produced from the ruptured egg sac in the ovary, its job being to maintain the womb lining in case an egg implants. After another week or so, if an egg hasn’t implanted, progesterone levels start to fall again. When both oestrogen and progesterone levels hit a certain low point, the womb lining starts to shed and your bleed arrives. Then the whole process starts again.
As the menopause approaches, your levels of oestrogen and progesterone leave their well-regulated schedules. The way they do this is quite random, so it’s impossible to predict what will happen or when it will happen. Some of the variations are:
Your period doesn’t arrive, and never arrives again, with no fuss and no bother. A year later you realise that you’ve not had a period for a year. Theoretically that is you through the menopause. Some women will find that they get the occasional backsliding in the form of a slight bleed, but basically it’s over. This is obviously the variation to hope for!
Your period arrives sooner than expected and/or in a more dramatic form – flooding, for example. Your cycle continues to become shorter, with heavy periods.
Your period arrives some time after it’s expected and may be lighter than previously. Your cycle continues to lengthen.
A combination of the two variations above transpires, confusing you greatly!
[Bear in mind that these explanations are generalised and simplified, to avoid having to write a tome that you’d not have time to read!]
Variation 1 is due to both oestrogen and progesterone levels falling below the level needed for ovulation and menstruation, but so gently and evenly that no imbalance is felt. Perfect.
Variation 2 is due to oestrogen levels rising.
Variation 3 is due to oestrogen levels falling.
Variation 4 is due to hormonal havoc, as the hormonal triggers that instruct the body to mature eggs in the ovaries and generally get the cycle going start to fall. It’s all a bit hit and miss, with an egg sometimes popping out and sometimes not, with the result that you sometimes have a period and sometimes skip one.
By and large, the symptoms of the menopause connected to higher oestrogen levels are: a shorter cycle, heavier bleeds, irritability, mood swings, swollen breasts, lumpy breasts, and fluid retention.
The symptoms connected to lower oestrogen levels are: a longer cycle, lighter bleeds, low mood, fatigue, vaginal dryness, and low libido.
Now you know what’s going on!
You can’t stop the menopause (although many women have had a good bash at it!), but you can take steps to avoid the worst of it, especially once you know why things are happening the way they are.
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