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Age-related female reproductive system changes are something all women experience, but too few women think about. As women age, so do their reproductive organs. Menopause is a change most women are familiar with, but it is far from the only change women experience as they age. As women age, changes involve psychological changes, hormone level changes, and physical reproductive tract changes affecting all components of the reproductive tract.
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Less Responsive Ovaries
As women age, their ovaries start to become less responsive to luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone stimulation. For a period of time, more of these ovary-stimulating hormones will be produced by the body as an attempt to make up for the reduced response. As time passes, levels of these hormones will decrease.
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The ovaries produce different forms of estrogen. This includes estradiol. Androgen (including testosterone), and progesterone are hormones that are also produced by the ovaries. Once a woman has gone through menopause her ovaries will still produce some estrogen and small amounts of testosterone. The pituitary gland hormones are also reduced.
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Vaginal and Breast Changes
Due to decreases in hormone levels, the entire reproductive system experiences changes, including the vagina. The walls of the vagina become thinner, less rigid, and less elastic. The vagina also becomes shorter. Vaginal secretions become watery and scant. The tissue of the external genitals thins and decreases. Breast tissue changes can also occur when the reproductive organ changes do.
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Menopause is something all women will experience as they age. It is characterized by menstrual periods stopping and the ovaries no longer releasing eggs. For most women, menopause begins at about 50 years of age, however, about eight percent of women enter menopause before 40 years of age. Before beginning menopause, a woman's menstrual periods are often irregular. Other menopause-related symptoms include racing or pounding heart, night sweats, insomnia, hot flashes, and skin flushing. Symptoms are only severe enough to warrant seeking medical attention in about 20 to 30 percent of women.
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As women age they will no longer be able to get pregnant. In most cases, a woman will no longer be able to get pregnant once she has not had a menstrual period for a year or more. However, there have been rare cases where a woman has become pregnant during and after menopause.
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As women age, enter, go through, and finish menopause they will often experience sexual changes, such as changes in libido and sexual response. However, women can still have a sexual relationship. Direct aging itself, however is less responsible for sexual changes than vaginal wall thinning, vaginal dryness, and social and psychological factors are.
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MedlinePlus. (2008). Aging Changes in the Female Reproductive System. Retrieved on November 20, 2010 from MedlinePlus: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/004016.htm
KidsHealth from Nemours. (2010). Female Reproductive System. Retrieved on November 20, 2010 from KidsHealth from Nemours: http://kidshealth.org/parent/general/body_basics/female_reproductive_system.html