Chemical and electrical signals in the brain send messages to the hypothalamus. This tiny but powerful structure in the brain controls many functions of the body. During the menstrual cycle, commonly referred to as a “ period”, the hypothalamus sends signals to the pituitary gland. The chemical signal, follicle-stimulating hormone, FSH, allow the pituitary to stimulate follicles that secrete estrogen into the ovaries and throughout the bloodstream. Estrogen causes the lining of the uterus to thicken with fresh tissue and enriched, oxygen-saturated blood. Gauging the period of ovulation, the body signals the release of an egg for fertilization. The cervical mucus changes to a temperature that supports the life of the sperm.
The reproductive system activates another chemical, Luteinizing Hormone, LH, when the levels of estrogen are sufficient to stimulate ovulation. If an egg is not fertilized and implanted in the uterine wall, pregnancy is not successful. The body recognizes the need to refresh the uterine wall. The body excretes the remaining estrogen and progesterone, resulting in menstruation, a period. This period occurs approximately 12 to 14 days after ovulation. Birth control medication works by blocking the production of LH. Ovulation cannot occur without Luteinizing Hormone. The period after ovulation from beginning to end results around day 25 and ends at approximately day 31.
Role of Hormones During Menstrual CycleEstrogen and progesterone are the primary cause of irregular periods. The onset of menopause alerts the hypothalamus to reduce the hormones the needed for uterine wall stimulation and egg production and ovulation ceases. The body, however, is accustom to these hormones other benefits, skin elasticity, mood stabilization, regulation of sleep cycles, stress hormones and the shedding of the uterine wall, gently.
Estrogen - Thickening the uterine lining in preparation for ovulation is no longer necessary. Estrogen levels become erratic at the onset of menopause. The lining sheds at irregular intervals throughout the cycle. Decreases in Estrogen can cause spotting, clotting and changes in intensity and duration of the menstrual cycle. Producing a type of placebo or inactive form of the hormone, Estrogen decreases, resulting in hormone imbalances for some women.
Progesterone - Triggering the actual shedding of the uterine contents after ovulation, Progesterone controls the release of menstrual blood. Typically, women lose between 2 and 8 tablespoons of the uterine lining and blood during their period. The loss of progesterone in menopause causes estrogen to build. The ovaries produce low levels of hormones, consistently. Estrogen and progesterone ebb and flow in an attempt to regulate the body. This disruption in the reproductive cycle takes time to regulate resulting in irregular periods. These hormones also control mood and sleep cycles. The hypothalamus controls body temperature.
Causes of Irregular Periods
With all of this fluctuation, women experience hot flashes, mood swings, difficulty sleeping, cramping during periods that can be painful. This is the normal process of Anovulation, when a woman no longer produces viable eggs for fertilization. Irregular periods during menopause have a variety of causes. It is helpful, however, to understand that many changes are typical for many women.
Some hormonal changes and irregular periods are aggravated by other health conditions or lifestyle changes. These conditions may require attention by a professional medical provider.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Uterine disorders -fibroids, cysts and polyps
Irritable Bowel Syndrome, IBS
Child birth or a recent miscarriage
Diseases of the liver or pancreas
Excessive alcohol or caffeine use
Unexplained weight gain or loss
These conditions may require medical attention. Be sure to consult a physician regarding irregular periods related to any of these health conditions and lifestyle changes.
When to Alert the Doctor
Bleeding that last longer than 7 days
Bleeding that occurs after intercourse
Pain below or above the stomach
Excess hair growth
Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
Odorous vaginal discharge
A qualified medical professional will perform tests to diagnose health problems related to irregular periods. Women who are uncertain about this typical transition period in their lives should ask their doctor about irregular periods. During annual Pap and pelvic examinations, be sure to mention new or uncomfortable symptoms related to irregular periods.