Generally what those brain signals produce is a jump in estrogen as your ovaries gear up to mature an egg. As a result, lower estrogen levels don't really occur until six months to one year before true menopause. Before that, estrogen levels may rise very high and then drop precipitously.
At menopause, your cycles have finally stopped. You do continue to produce some estrogen from the lining of your ovaries and your adrenal glands, and some testosterone as well. But the amount and power of this kind of estrogen is far less than the estradiol produced by your ovaries during your reproductive years. When you haven't had a period for a year, you're officially postmenopausal.
Signs of Menopause
This loss of hormones is no small matter. Estrogen affects the entire body. Not all women react the same way to the wild fluctuations in hormone levels during menopause, but here are some common experiences and long-term health concerns of women going through menopause.
Hot Flashes. The most common problem related to menopause is the "hot flash" or "hot flush." Women feel really warm or even hot, and they may flush or perspire. Their heart rate may increase as well. Hot flashes come and go for usually three to five years, but they can end much sooner or go on much longer.
Taking estrogen usually stops hot flashes cold, but they may return if a woman goes off the medication too quickly. Alternative methods for alleviating hot flashes include increasing intake of soy foods and flaxseeds and supplementing with black cohosh in standardized extract form.
Insomnia. Some women have trouble sleeping, and, let's face it, trouble being awake too after getting too little sleep for month after month. You may feel irritable or depressed. Exercise, stress management, and eating a healthy diet are all recommended.
Lack of libido. Many women find that their sex drive diminishes with menopause. Physical changes in the vagina during menopause due to the drop in estrogen, which kept tissues plump and lubricated, and the huge decrease in naturally produced androgens, which spiked your sex drive, may leave you wishing you'd never heard of sex.
Estrogen creams and an estrogen ring worn in the vagina can help prevent the thinning and dryness of the vagina and vulva that make intercourse uncomfortable. Testosterone, in very small doses, may increase sex drive. (But be careful. Some women are very sensitive to testosterone and your testosterone/estrogen balance has already been skewed by the severe drop in estrogen. If you're sensitive to testosterone, you may develop acne, facial hair and thinning or loss of the hair on your head.)