Women experience several different changes to their body throughout their lifetime. Hormones play a significant role in these changes especially during menopause and pregnancy. The hormones with the biggest effects are hCG, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is the first hormone to appear during pregnancy and is picked up by a urine or blood test to detect pregnancy. HCG levels double about every two days during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. HCG keeps estrogen and progesterone at their appropriate levels until the placenta has developed enough to take over this function. HCG increases blood supply to the pelvis, which creates a sensitive bladder. It is also responsible for several other symptoms, including nausea and vomiting.
Estrogen performs many functions, including stimulating the growth of breast tissue, maintaining vaginal blood flow and lubrication, causing the lining of the uterus to thicken during the menstrual cycle, keeping vaginal lining elastic, and helping to preserve bone. Estrogen levels fluctuate during perimenopause and pregnancy. High levels of estrogen can cause bloating, breast tenderness, heavy bleeding. Low levels can cause hot flashes, night sweats, palpitations, headaches, insomnia, fatigue, bone loss, and vaginal dryness.
Progesterone prepares the lining of the uterus for a fertilized egg and helps maintain pregnancy. Production of progesterone stops during menstrual cycles and after the final menstrual period.
Testosterone plays a key role in women’s estrogen production, it also contributes to libido and may help maintain bone and muscle mass. Testosterone levels reach their highest during a woman’s 20s and then slowly decline after. By menopause, level is at half of its peak. Testosterone is produced in the ovaries even after estrogen production stops.
Jaime Venditti, State Coordinator, New York Health Works