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Irregular Periods

What happens to My Ovulation When I’m having Irregular Periods?

Irregular periods are a very regular part of menopause, but why? The reason women begin experiencing irregular periods during the perimenopause phase is simple, it is when the body stops ovulating at regular intervals, and ovulation equals periods.

The reason ovulation becomes so irregular is directly related to lower levels of estrogen. To understand your ovulation you must first understand why your estrogen levels are dropping and how that affects your body's functions.

Why Are My Estrogen Levels Low?

What happens to My Ovulation When I’m having Irregular Periods?Low estrogen levels are what trigger the onset of menopause; the time in a woman's life when she goes from being fertile to infertile. Estrogen levels slowly begin to decline during the perimenopause phase, the time right before a woman goes through menopause. Estrogen levels regulate many of your body's daily functions, so when they drop it is very noticeable and cause the common symptoms of menopause. These symptoms can include hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, loss of libido and mood swings.

Ovulation and Estrogen Levels

If ovulation is not occurring in a woman because of low estrogen levels, there are two possible causes for this problem. Either the ovaries are not being told properly what to do, or the ovaries are incapable of releasing eggs.

Ovaries are not being told what to do:

What happens to My Ovulation When I’m having Irregular Periods?If you participate in excessive exercise, have low body weight or are suffering from an eating disorder; all of these can adversely affect the pituitary gland, so that it cannot send proper signals to the ovary. Women who are suffering from these conditions are found to have very low levels of estrogen and their bodies do not release an egg, hence no ovulation. And without ovulation there is not chance for an egg to be fertilized and the woman cannot get pregnant.

The ovaries are incapable of producing an egg:

What happens to My Ovulation When I’m having Irregular Periods?If a woman has been diagnosed with having low estrogen levels, the next step would be to test the blood level of the pituitary hormone FSH; a hormone produced by the pituitary gland serves to tell the ovary to make estrogen and to ready the eggs for ovulation.

When one ovary doesn't have any eggs, or if it can't release them, the pituitary sends out more and more FSH in an attempt to get the ovary to respond. For the woman who is found to have high FSH levels, it's a sign that the pituitary is trying to stimulate the ovary but is not having any success. Ovulation (the releasing of eggs) goes hand in hand with hormone production. So if eggs are not present, estrogen won't be produced.

To learn more about Irregular Periods

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Menstrual Cycle Problems and Regulation
Irregular Periods and menopause

  • Hutchinson, Susan M.D. "The Stages of a Woman's Life: Menstruation, Pregnancy, Nursing, Perimenopause, Menopause." November 2007.
  • Love, Susan M.D. Menopause and Hormone Book. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003.
  • BMJ Group. "Menopause: What is it?" Patient Leaflet. 2007.