Ovaries don’t just produce eggs — they’re also a source of hormones that affect many parts of our bodies. In the years leading up to menopause (called perimenopause), our ovaries’ hormone production starts to fluctuate. These changes are behind some of the most common perimenopause symptoms.
Here’s a closer look at how your hormones may be changing, and the possible impacts on your body and mind.
Estrogen levels are going down — and up and down
During perimenopause, estrogen levels start to fluctuate more and become less predictable. Since estrogen plays a lot of roles, changing estrogen levels can have a noticeable impact.
High estrogen can lead to bloating, breast tenderness, and heavier periods.
Low estrogen can cause hot flashes (also known as night sweats when they happen during the sleeping hours), headaches, and vaginal dryness.
Estrogen also plays a part in the production of serotonin, a chemical that helps regulate moods. This is why changing estrogen levels can contribute to mood swings, or lower moods, around menopause.
Progesterone is decreasing, too
Progesterone is another hormone produced by the ovaries. It plays a key role in helping the uterus prepare for a fertilized egg and it’s critical in the early stages of a pregnancy.
As the ovaries produce less progesterone on the way toward menopause, periods become irregular and sometimes heavier.
Testosterone has already been changing for quite a while
When you hear the word “testosterone,” you might think of men, but women’s bodies also produce the hormone. Women’s testosterone levels peak in our 20s and then begin to decline slowly. Testosterone may help support bone and muscle mass. And some researchers believe that declining testosterone levels can impact the libido.
After menopause, hormones settle back down
Once a person reaches menopause (a year after the last period), hormone levels stabilize again. For many people, it’s a welcome relief to find that bothersome symptoms of perimenopause — including hot flashes and mood swings — decrease or go away altogether.
Our bodies keep producing estrogen after menopause, but at lower levels than before. Since estrogen helps protect our heart and bones, lower levels mean our risks for heart disease and osteoporosis go up.
There are a few important steps to help lower your health risks, including eating a healthy balance of foods (make sure you are getting calcium and vitamin D), getting plenty of exercise, treating health conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, and keeping up with your regular healthcare visits.
If you’re in the middle of hormonal ups and downs and the physical or emotional symptoms are bothering you, talk with your healthcare provider. Lifestyle changes and natural remedies can help, and hormone replacement can ease symptoms and lower health risks. You and your provider can work together to find just the right approach for you.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- “Changes in Hormone Levels.” The North American Menopause Society. The North American Menopause Society. https://www.menopause.org/for-women/sexual-health-menopause-online/changes-at-midlife/changes-in-hormone-levels.
- “Menopause.” Endocrine Society. Endocrine Society. January 24, 2022. https://www.endocrine.org/patient-engagement/endocrine-library/menopause.