The menopause starts when periods stop.
To understand what happens during the menopause, it will be helpful to know how monthly periods come about before one reaches the menopause. Follow our link to read more information on the menstrual cycle.
Before the menopause (and after puberty), a woman typically releases an egg each month. This process is controlled by a small gland in the brain, called the pituitary gland.
The older we become, the less fit we are and bearing a child later in life has higher risks for both mother and child. Nature recognises this and our genes are programmed in such a way that, when a woman reaches a certain point in her life, her body says that it is not wise to produce any more eggs.
When this happens, the hormones produced by the pituitary gland decline. This signals to the ovaries that eggs are no longer required and ovulation stops. The previously regular cycle of thickening and shedding of the lining of the womb is no longer required and periods stop. Levels of progesterone and oestrogen fall.
So biologically, menopause marks the end of the fertile period in a woman’s life and helps serve the purpose of ensuring that a woman bearing a child is fit to do so.
Changes in hormone levels during the menopause lead directly and indirectly to a wide variety of symptoms. The most common are hot flushes and night sweats, probably caused by hormonal changes altering the way the body perceives heat.