Around menopause Menopause Menopause is the permanent end of menstrual periods and thus of fertility. For up to several years before and just after menopause, estrogen levels fluctuate widely, periods become irregular... read more , changes in the female reproductive organs occur rapidly. (Menopause is defined as 1 full year after the last menstrual period.) Menstrual cycles Menstrual Cycle Menstruation is the shedding of the lining of the uterus (endometrium) accompanied by bleeding. It occurs in approximately monthly cycles throughout a woman's reproductive life, except during... read more stop, and the ovaries stop producing estrogen.
After menopause, the tissues of the labia minora (which surround the opening of the vagina and urethra), clitoris, vagina, and urethra become thin (atrophy). This thinning can result in chronic irritation and dryness of the vagina. Vaginal discharge and urinary tract infections are more likely to develop. Also after menopause, the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries become smaller.
With aging, there is a decrease in the amount of muscle and connective tissue, including that in muscles, ligaments, and other tissues that support the bladder, uterus, vagina, and rectum. As a result, the affected organs may not be supported and may drop down (prolapse Pelvic Organ Prolapse (POP) Pelvic organ prolapse involves relaxation or weakening of the ligaments, connective tissue, and muscles of the pelvis, causing the bladder, urethra, small intestine, rectum, or uterus to bulge... read more ), sometimes causing a feeling of pelvic pressure or fullness. They may bulge at the opening of the vagina and cause difficulty urinating or loss of control of urination or bowel movements (incontinence). Women who have had children are more likely to have such problems, but they may affect any woman.
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Because there is less estrogen to stimulate milk ducts, the breasts decrease in size. The connective tissue that supports the breasts also decreases. The loss of support contributes to changes in breast shape. Fibrous tissue in the breasts is replaced with fat, making the breasts less firm.
Age-related changes in reproductive organs do not interfere with sexual pleasure. However, vaginal dryness after menopause can cause pain during sexual activity, and some women feel a decrease in the desire to have sex.