What Causes The Menopause?

The menopause occurs as a result of changing hormone levels in the female body; it is a natural life event, which brings the menstrual cycle to an end and coincides with the natural process of ageing. The menopause actually relates to the last period you have, but most of the time it is thought of as the episode, which builds up to the last period.

As you approach the menopause, the levels of oestrogen, the hormone, which is responsible for controlling periods in women, decrease, and this causes ovulation to cease; ovulation is the process of the ovaries releasing eggs. Oestrogen is the main female sex hormone and it has a number of important roles; it triggers the release of the egg and prepares the body for pregnancy; as levels fall as you get older, periods tend to become less frequent and regular until they eventually stop. Once the level of oestrogen has been reduced sufficiently to stop periods, the chances of getting pregnant fall significantly and it is virtually impossible to conceive, as there is no egg to fertilise; it is possible to get pregnant while you are going through the menopause and you are still having periods, but the chances of conception are remote, as periods tend to be irregular and infrequent.

Most commonly, the menopause occurs around the age of 50, although this can vary and it is possible to develop symptoms before the age of 40 and after the age of 55.

There are various triggers, which may bring on symptoms of the menopause early (before the age of 45) or prematurely (before the age of 40); these include:

  • radiotherapy treatment for cancer within the pelvic area and some forms of chemotherapy
  • hysterectomy procedure to remove the uterus before menopause
  • infections
  • some medical conditions and disorders, including Down's syndrome, Turner syndrome and hypothyroidism, which is also known as an under active thyroid gland

We will explore the early menopause in more detail later on (see early and premature menopause article).

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