What causes menopausal symptoms? Hormonal changes.
Hormones are the messengers in the body that travel through the blood stream to start, stop, speed up or slow down your physical and chemical functions and processes across all body systems. Your ovaries are the source of estrogen and progesterone, the two key hormones that control the reproductive system, including the menstrual cycle and fertility in women. You are born with all the eggs you will ever have. The eggs are in the follicles, which are found in the ovaries. During menopause, the number of ovarian follicles declines and the ovaries become less responsive to the two other hormones involved in reproduction—Luteinizing Hormone (LH) and Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH). As your ovaries age and release fewer hormones, FSH and LH can no longer perform their usual functions to regulate your estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. These inevitable changes in your hormones and natural decline of estrogen levels during menopause can significantly affect your health for years to come. Click on the bars next to diagram to discover how estrogen depletion can affect each part of your body.
See How Hormone Depletion Affects You
Estrogen depletion can bring on a combination of hormonal and biochemical fluctuations that can lead to changes in your brain and nervous system. You may experience mood swings, memory loss, problems focusing, irritability, fatigue, hot flashes, night sweats, stress, anxiety and depression. Physical symptoms, such as hot flashes, mixed with cognitive changes, such as irritability and memory loss, can create more opportunities for emotional changes and mood swings, although no research to date shows a direct link to depression due to menopause. Some researchers believe that estrogen depletion can affect your memory and may impact one's risk for the development of Alzheimer's disease, but more research is needed.
Due to estrogen depletion, women are put at an increased risk for cardiovascular issues, such as heart attacks, strokes, or other heart-related problems. If you have undergone a hysterectomy (removal of uterus) and/or oophorectomy (removal of ovaries) and have experienced early menopause, you are at an even greater risk for heart problems. In addition to menopause-related estrogen depletion, your age, family history, diet, and lifestyle also play a key role in your heart health.
Your reproductive ability decreases with age due to the loss of ovarian function and estrogen depletion. The monthly menstrual cycle that you've had since puberty ends with menopause and you're no longer able to conceive.
After the age of 30, the creation of new bone cannot keep up with the rate of bone loss in your body. The estrogen depletion that comes with menopause results in an increased risk for low bone mineral density, osteopenia and osteoporosis. For 5-10 years after menopause, this bone density loss accelerates into a gradual weakening of your bones and can lead to an increase in the risk for fractures and other injuries.
The body's largest and most visible organ, your skin, undergoes changes during menopause. The reduction of estrogen at menopause decreases the water-holding ability and elasticity in the skin, leading to dryness, itching, and an increase in wrinkling and sagging. Your skin becomes more susceptible to injury, such as bruising. Estrogen appears to help your skin heal faster when wounded and researchers are beginning to study its possible connection to melanoma, a serious type of skin cancer.
As with the vagina, estrogen depletion can cause the lining of your urethra to become drier, thinner and less elastic. This can lead to feeling the need to urinate more often, an increased risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs) and involuntary leaking of urine (incontinence) when coughing, laughing or lifting heavy objects.
Low estrogen levels can lead to vaginal dryness, irritation or discomfort. This lack of estrogen can cause vaginal atrophy—an inflammation of the vagina as a result of the thinning and shrinking of the tissues, along with a decrease in lubrication. Sometimes this thinning and dryness can lead to discomfort during sexual activity and make your vagina more vulnerable to infection.