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The word menopause literally means the permanent physiological, or natural, cessation of menstrual cycles, from the Greek roots 'meno-' (month) and 'pausis' (a pause, a cessation). In other words, menopause means the natural and permanent stopping of the monthly female reproductive cycles, which is usually manifest as a permanent absence of monthly periods or menstruation.

The word menopause is most often used in regard to human females, where menopause happens more or less in midlife, signaling the end of the fertile phase of a woman's life, and ushering in the third, traditionally wiser, part of a woman's life. Menopause is perhaps most easily understood as the opposite process to menarche.

Menopause in women cannot however simply be defined as the permanent "stopping of the monthly periods", because in reality what is happening to the uterus is quite secondary to the process. In fact the uterus can be surgically removed (hysterectomy) in a younger woman, and although the periods will cease permanently and the woman will technically be infertile, as long as the ovaries (or one ovary) are, or is, still functioning, the woman will not be in menopause, because ovulation, and the release of the sequence of reproductive hormones that are an essential part of the reproductive cycles, will continue until the normal time of menopause is reached.

Menopause is in fact triggered by the faltering and shutting down (or surgical removal of) of the ovaries, which are a part of the body's endocrine system of hormone production, in this case the hormones which make sexual behavior and reproduction possible.

The process of the ovaries shutting down is a phenomenon which involves the entire cascade of a woman's reproductive functioning from brain to skin, and this major physiological event usually has some effect on almost every aspect of a woman's body and life.


Menopause starts as the ovaries begin to fail to be able to produce an egg or ovum every month. Since the process of producing and ripening the egg is also what creates several of the key hormones involved in the monthly cycle, this in turn interrupts the regular pattern of the hormone cycles, and gradually leads to the somewhat chaotic and long-drawn out shutting down of the whole reproductive system.

The break-up in the pattern of the menstrual cycles not only causes the levels of most of the reproductive hormones to drop over time, but also causes the reproductive hormones to fall out of phase with one another, which often leads to extreme and unpredictable fluctuations in the levels, which itself can cause numerous different symptoms such as hot flashes, etc, in most women. After a number of years of erratic functioning, the ovaries almost completely stop producing hormones: estrogens, progestin and testosterone, and the reproductive system ceases to function.

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