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Function: Changes During the Menopause

The menopause occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, when a woman’s ovaries stop responding to follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and produce less of the female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone. This drop in hormone levels brings an end to ovulation and menstruation. In the years just before and after the menopause, hormone changes produce physical symptoms such as hot flushes, vaginal dryness, and night sweats. The menopause is also associated with long-term physical changes, such as osteoporosis.

Hormone cycle

At the menopause, the ovaries no longer respond to FSH and produce little oestrogen. The pituitary gland reacts by increasing its production of FSH. The raised levels of FSH cause symptoms such as hot flushes.

Osteoporosis in bone tissue

Oestrogen is needed to give bones strength. After the menopause, when oestrogen levels are low, osteoporosis can develop. Bones lose density and may become thin and brittle, as shown in the microscopic image above.

Before the menopause

After the menopause

Hot flushes

These thermal images show increased skin temperature in a hot flush caused by high FSH levels.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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