What Are Hormones?

A woman’s body makes different hormones throughout her life. The three major sex hormones made by the ovaries are the so-called “female” sex hormones estrogen and progesterone, and the so-called “male” sex hormone testosterone. During reproductive years, these hormones prepare the body for pregnancy, but they also affect other aspects of the body, health and well-being. After natural menopause or when the ovaries are surgically removed, these hormone levels decrease, leading to menopausal symptoms. Testosterone continues to be made by the adrenal glands, although levels decline as women age.


Menopause is the time that marks the end of your menstrual cycles. It's diagnosed after you've gone 12 months without a menstrual period. Menopause can happen in your 40s or 50s, but the average age is 51 in the United States. Menopause is a natural biological process. But the physical symptoms, such as hot flashes, and emotional symptoms of menopause may disrupt your sleep, lower your energy or affect emotional health. There are many effective treatments available, from lifestyle adjustments to hormone therapy.

 

In the months or years leading up to menopause (perimenopause), you might experience these signs and symptoms:


· Irregular periods

· Vaginal dryness

· Hot flashes

· Chills

· Night sweats

· Sleep problems

· Mood changes

· Weight gain and slowed metabolism

· Thinning hair and dry skin

· Loss of breast fullness


Symptoms, including changes in menstruation, are different for every woman. Most likely, you'll experience some irregularity in your periods before they end.


Skipping periods during perimenopause is common and expected. Often, menstrual periods will skip a month and return, or skip several months and then start monthly cycles again for a few months. Periods also tend to happen on shorter cycles, so they are closer together. Despite irregular periods, pregnancy is possible. If you've skipped a period but aren't sure you've started the menopausal transition, consider a pregnancy test.


Menopause can result from:


· Natural decline of reproductive hormones.As you approach your late 30s, your ovaries start making less estrogen and progesterone — the hormones that regulate menstruation — and your fertility declines. In your 40s, your menstrual periods may become longer or shorter, heavier or lighter, and more or less frequent, until eventually — on average, by age 51 — your ovaries stop producing eggs, and you have no more periods.

· Hysterectomy. A hysterectomy that removes your uterus but not your ovaries usually doesn't cause immediate menopause. Although you no longer have periods, your ovaries still release eggs and produce estrogen and progesterone. But surgery that removes both your uterus and your ovaries (total hysterectomy and bilateral oophorectomy) does cause immediate menopause. Your periods stop immediately, and you're likely to have hot flashes and other menopausal signs and symptoms, which can be severe, as these hormonal changes occur abruptly rather than over several years.

· Chemotherapy and radiation therapy. These cancer therapies can induce menopause, causing symptoms such as hot flashes during or shortly after the course of treatment. The halt to menstruation (and fertility) is not always permanent following chemotherapy, so birth control measures may still be desired.

· Primary ovarian insufficiency. About 1 percent of women experience menopause before age 40 (premature menopause). Menopause may result from primary ovarian insufficiency — when your ovaries fail to produce normal levels of reproductive hormones — stemming from genetic factors or autoimmune disease. But often no cause can be found. For these women, hormone therapy is typically recommended at least until the natural age of menopause in order to protect the brain, heart and bones.

After menopause, your risk of certain medical conditions increases. Examples include:

· Heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease. When your estrogen levels decline, your risk of cardiovascular disease increases. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women as well as in men. So it's important to get regular exercise, eat a healthy diet and maintain a normal weight. Ask your doctor for advice on how to protect your heart, such as how to reduce your cholesterol or blood pressure if it's too high.

· Osteoporosis. This condition causes bones to become brittle and weak, leading to an increased risk of fractures. During the first few years after menopause, you may lose bone density at a rapid rate, increasing your risk of osteoporosis. Postmenopausal women with osteoporosis are especially susceptible to fractures of their spine, hips and wrists.

· Urinary incontinence. As the tissues of your vagina and urethra lose elasticity, you may experience frequent, sudden, strong urges to urinate, followed by an involuntary loss of urine (urge incontinence), or the loss of urine with coughing, laughing or lifting (stress incontinence). You may have urinary tract infections more often.

Strengthening pelvic floor muscles with Kegel exercises and using a topical vaginal estrogen may help relieve symptoms of incontinence. Hormone therapy may also be an effective treatment option for menopausal urinary tract and vaginal changes which can result in urinary incontinence.

· Sexual function. Vaginal dryness from decreased moisture production and loss of elasticity can cause discomfort and slight bleeding during sexual intercourse. Also, decreased sensation may reduce your desire for sexual activity (libido).

Water-based vaginal moisturizers and lubricants may help. If a vaginal lubricant isn't enough, many women benefit from the use of local vaginal estrogen treatment, available as a vaginal cream, tablet or ring.

· Weight gain. Many women gain weight during the menopausal transition and after menopause because metabolism slows. You may need to eat less and exercise more, just to maintain your current weight.


Using estrogen alone increases the risk for uterine cancer. Adding progesterone to hormone replacement protects the uterus from cancer. For this reason, estrogen-only preparations are usually only used in postmenopausal women who have had hysterectomies. Because they have no uterus, these women have no risk of uterine cancer and therefore don’t require progesterone.


Progesterone therapy is usually added to estrogen therapy in women who still have a uterus.

 

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What is Progesterone?


Progesterone, a naturally occurring hormone in both men and women, participates in practically every physiological process in the human body. Its tremendous increase during pregnancy acts to stabilize both mother and child. At levels reached just before delivery, progesterone produces anesthesia and contributes to tissue elasticity.

Progesterone’s stabilizing influence is evident in muscle tissue, such as the uterus, blood vessel walls, the heart intestines, and bladder. Progesterone can positively impact susceptibility to many conditions including herpes infections, dizziness, varicose veins, mastitis, fibroma and endometriosis.


Progesterone also helps control the entire range of PMS symptoms including migraine, acne, hot flashes, edema, and lethargy. Links between progesterone insufficiency and certain cancers have also been made. For instance, prolonged progesterone deficiency causes subtle changes in a normal uterus so that endometrial hyperplasia (an abnormal thickening of the uterus lining) may develop. This, in turn, may eventually lead to uterine cancer if left untreated.

Finally, many studies have concluded that progesterone has a positive impact on osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.


What is Estrogen?


Estrogen is actually a group of three steroid hormones Estradiol, Estrone, and Estriol with very similar properties. Estrogen is responsible for the changes that occur when a girl becomes a woman. When low estrogen levels occur, several results are possible. An increased risk of Heart Disease and Osteoporosis: increased memory loss, classic menopausal symptoms, e.g., hot flashes, increased vaginal dryness, urinary incontinence and bladder infections, and reduced libido to name but a few.


What is Testosterone?


Testosterone is believed by most to be a male hormone‚ that changes a boy into a man. While this is true, it’s important to understand that women need testosterone also. With testosterone, male sexual characteristics develop during puberty. These include growth of the male reproductive organs, thickening of the vocal cords (which deepens the voice), growth of body hair, an increase in muscle mass and strength, a decrease in body fat, and an increase in libido. In women, testosterone is needed for many of the same reasons as in men, but in significantly smaller amounts (about 8% of that required by males.)


In women, testosterone also contributes to energy levels, an overall sense of wellbeing and libido. Research during the past few years has shown the effects of testosterone go further than just masculinization. Several studies have shown a relationship between low testosterone levels and elevated triglycerides and LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol that is a major factor in atherosclerosis). Conversely, studies have also shown a positive relationship between high testosterone levels and HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol).