News Flash: Menopause

male physician talking to a mature female patient

When a baby girl is born, her ovaries contain somewhere between one and three million eggs. Throughout her lifetime, most of these eggs will gradually die, while a smaller number are fertilized or lost through regular ovulation. During menopause, a woman’s ovaries run out of eggs, her monthly period disappears and her childbearing years come to an end.

Why does menopause happen?

The short answer is that women outlive their eggs. But, scientifically speaking, menopause is caused by changes in our reproductive hormone levels.

Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
FSH is in charge of triggering the release of an egg from one of our ovaries (ovulation). As we get older, our eggs become more resistant to FSH and we ovulate less frequently.

Estrogen and progesterone
In our late 30s, our ovaries begin to make less estrogen and progesterone, the hormones that regulate the processes of reproduction and menstruation.

How do I know if I’m going through ‘the change’?

Menopause is defined as a minimum of 12 months without a period, so a diagnosis can’t be made until after the process is finished (which can take about four years). That said, before, during and after menopause, women typically experience a number of signs and symptoms related to lower levels of hormones. Some of the most common include:

  • Hot flushes (also known as hot flashes) and/or night sweats
  • Changes in menstruation (either more often or less often, heavier or lighter), which eventually leads to the end of the monthly period
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Mood changes

Why don’t men go through menopause?

Women make all of their eggs before or shortly after their birth, as opposed to men, who continue to make sperm their entire lives. There are many theories and opinions on why this is the case, but it could boil down to the fact that childbearing and raising children takes a much greater physical toll on mothers than fathers, and our bodies just weren’t made to continue that hard work after age 50 or so.

For more information about menopause symptoms and potential treatments, speak with your primary care physician. For more information or a physician referral, call 1-800-BayCare (1-800-229-2273) or find a doctor near you.