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ageing of the female reproductive system

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Female reproductive organs

Alternative Names
age-related changes in the female reproductive system

Normal changes occur in the female reproductive system as women get older.

What is the information for this topic?
Age-related changes in this system usually start around the age of 40. Most women do not notice many changes until menopause, or the change of life. Menopause usually starts around the age of 45 - 50 and causes periods to stop.

The main parts of this system are the vagina, uterus, ovaries, and external genitalia. Most of the changes in these organs are related to lower levels of estrogen. Oestrogen is the main female hormone. Oestrogen levels start to decrease around the age of 40. A more rapid drop in oestrogen levels occurs during menopause. The ovaries make most of the oestrogen in the body before menopause.

As women age, the ovaries are less able to make oestrogen. The ovaries begin to shrink. Fat and other materials start to replace the hormone-making cells.

Without enough oestrogen, the uterus, or womb, gets smaller. The muscles of the uterus shrink and are replaced by fat and other materials. The glands in the uterus get smaller. These glands are involved in causing periods before menopause. They also help prepare a woman for pregnancy, which can no longer occur after the change of life. The uterine tubes get smaller and weaker with age as well.

The most bothersome age-related changes usually occur in the vagina. The vagina gets narrower and shorter with age. The walls become thin and less elastic or stretchable. The glands that normally wet the vagina shrink and secrete less lubricant. This makes the vagina become dry, and sex may be painful. The vagina may also itch. Infections in the vagina, such as yeast infections, are more common.

The external genitalia also slowly change. The pubic hair becomes thinner and coarser, and may turn grey. The labia, or outer skin folds around the vaginal opening, lose fat and elastic tissue. This causes the labia to become thinner, wrinkled, and less prominent.

Hormone replacement therapy with oestrogen can prevent some of these changes. This therapy has risks and side effects, however. Women should discuss the risks and benefits of this therapy with their doctor.

Author: Eva Martin, MD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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