This page is a collection of definitions for terms used in discussion about Early Menopause. Its intended to help you understand the resources offered on this site and others, and also to help you gain a better understanding of various relevant topics.
Note: always consult your doctor before making decisions regarding your health and treatment. This glossary is a work in progress — so terms will be added on an ongoing basis.
Amenorrhea: the absence of periods
Androgens: male sex hormones such as testosterone and DHEA. These hormones are produced in higher amounts by men, but are also produced by women in their ovaries and adrenal glands. Available in certain forms of HRT in combination with estrogen, such as Estratest, or by itself. See HRT section for more information.
Anovulation: lack of ovulation (for example, you may have anovulatory periods — in which you bleed, but no egg has been released).
ANA (Antinuclear Antibodies): antibodies that fight against normal elements in your cells’ nuclei. Often found in disorders including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, etc. If you have premature ovarian failure possibly due to autoimmune disorders, your doctor may suggest ANA testing.
Autoimmune Disorder: when your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks itself. In effect, your body senses part of itself as an invader, so it sends out antibodies to destroy the perceived threat.
Autoimmune Premature Ovarian Failure: premature ovarian failure due to an autoimmune disorder — including other autoimmune disorders such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, etc., or an autoimmune reaction to your ovaries, endometrial lining, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), etc.
Bilateral Oophorectomy: surgical removal of both ovaries, resulting in surgical menopause.
Bilateral Salpingo-Oophorectomy (BSO): surgical removal of both fallopian tubes and ovaries
BMD: acronym meaning bone mineral density; used in discussions about osteoporosis
Bone Density Testing: tests using low-dose radiation x-rays to determine the density of your bones. Used to detect osteopenia and/or osteoporosis.
Breakthrough Bleeding: bleeding which occurs off-schedule — for example, if you are on cyclical hormone replacement therapy, you should get your period during or after the progesterone or progestin part of your regimen. Bleeding which occurs before this or in addition to this would be considered breakthrough bleeding.
Bromocriptine (Parlodel): prescription medication that reduces prolactin levels and/or shrinks pituitary tumors. Used to treat hyperprolactinemia and pituitary tumors.
Cervical Mucus (CM): mucus at the opening of the cervix. When estrogen levels are higher (in the mid-cycle), CM becomes thinner and stringy like egg white to enable the passage of sperm into the uterus. This is often a sign of ovulation.
Conjugated Estrogens (CE): a blend of different estrogens used in hormone replacement therapy, including equine estrogens. Most commonly sold under the brand names Premarin and Cenestin. The most widely used form of estrogen in hormone replacement therapy and the most studied, but not identical to that which the body produces.
Corpus Luteum: formed from a burst follicle after ovulation; literally means “yellow body”. Essentially a temporary gland that produces estrogen and, more importantly, progesterone, to help prepare the uterus for a fertilized egg.
Cushing’s Syndrome: disorder marked by overproduction of adrenal hormones, which can cause a drop in luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH); the emergence of secondary male characteristics (like hair growth, acne, etc.); and ovarian failure. Other symptoms usually include high blood pressure and water retention. (Note: this is different that Cushing’s Disease which causes the same symptoms, but is the result of a pituitary tumor)
Day 3: considered the best day for blood hormone levels tests of FSH and estrogen; the third day of your period
DEXA scan: acronym for dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, the most accurate form of bone density checking.
DHEA: androgen (male hormone) mainly produced by your adrenal gland. Considered a “building-block hormone,” one from which the other sex hormones are made. May help prevent osteoporosis, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Not commonly prescribed in HRT.
D&C (Dilation and Curettage): procedure in which a doctor dilates your cervix and scrapes out the uterine lining; used for both diagnosis and treatment of abnormal bleeding, such as fibroids.
Dyspareunia: painful intercourse, often as a result of low estrogen levels
Egg Donation (aka ED, DE): procedure in which a woman (the donor) donates eggs to be used by a donor recipient (a woman who can’t produce her own healthy eggs). These eggs are fertilized in vitro and implanted in the recipient’s uterus — who then carries the eggs to term.
Endometrial Biopsy: sampling of the uterine lining which is then subjected to analysis. Often given if you have abnormal bleeding (to check for hyperplasia, overgrowth of the endometrium, or cancer). Also used to test for ovulation or follicles.
Endometriosis: when endometrial tissue, that is, tissue from the uterine lining, grows outside the uterus. Can lead to excessive bleeding, problems with ovulation, etc.
Endometrium: the uterine lining — which thickens in preparation for pregnancy, then is shed if no fertilized egg is implanted.
ERT (Estrogen Replacement Therapy): replacing estrogen in your body by taking estrogen supplementation (most often by pill or patch).
Estradiol (E2): the primary estrogen produced by your ovaries; also the strongest estrogen and the one you have the most of during your reproductive years. This is the form of estrogen that is tested to determine blood levels of estrogen — and also the form of estrogen in many different forms of HRT (for more information, see HRT). Estradiol can convert to the weaker estrogens, estrone and estriol, in your body.
Estrone (E1): an end product of estradiol produced when your liver converts estradiol to estrone; can also convert into estradiol; also produced by your adrenal glands. The form of estrogen you have the most of in your post-menopause years (if you’re not taking estrogen replacement).
Estriol (E3): the weakest form of human estrogen; your liver can convert both estradiol and estrone into estriol. During pregnancy, the placenta produces high amounts of estriol to protect the fetus. Appears not to overstimulate breast and uterine tissues as the other forms of estrogen may.
Estrogen: actually a family of hormones, rather than just one hormone. Estrogens are female hormones that help prepare your uterus for possible pregnancy. They are also responsible for development and growth of your reproductive organs and breasts.
Fibroid (aka Myoma or Leiomyoma): benign growth in the walls of the uterus; can also be attached by a stalk to the outside of the uterus. Can cause irregular bleeding, breakthrough bleeding, etc. Estrogen can “feed” a fibroid — causing it to grow. Can be treated by progesterone, medications, or surgery.
Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH): hormone that stimulates development of follicles (the sacs holding the eggs in your ovaries). High levels of FSH can indicate ovarian failure (for FSH levels, see Hormone Tests and Diagnosis).
Follicular Phase: the first half of your menstrual cycle (usually lasting from 10 to 17 days). You enter this phase right after you’ve had a period. During this time, FSH stimulates growth of follicles; one follicle dominates and increases production of estrogen — which causes your endometrial lining (the uterine lining) to thicken.
Fragile X Syndrome: a chromosomal irregularity in which a defect appears on one of the 2 X chromosomes in women — which interferes with the production of eggs, leading to a lower number of eggs in the ovaries and so, an earlier menopause than the norm. (For more information, see Causes).
Galactorrhea: clear or milky discharge from the breasts; usually occurs with high prolactin levels
Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone (GnRH): in effect, the “master hormone” in your reproductive system, since it signals your pituitary gland to release two other hormones crucial in ovulation — FSH and LH (see the definitions for follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone for more).
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): the replacement of both estrogen and progesterone in women with early menopause or premature ovarian failure
Hyperplasia: overgrowth of the endometrial lining. Can cause excessive bleeding and, if left untreated, can become a precursor to cancer.
Hyperprolactinemia: condition marked by excessive prolactin production — which can suppress the production of LH and FSH and thus cause amenorrhea. Often treated by taking bromocriptine (Parlodel).
Hyperthyroidism: autoimmune disorder in which the thyroid gland overproduces thyroid hormone. Can cause some symptoms that overlap with those of menopause, including palpitations.
Hypoestrogenic: excessively low levels of estrogen.
Hypothalamus Gland: the part of your brain in charge of your entire endocrine — or glandular — system; responsible for releasing GnRH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone).
Hypothyroidism: disorder in which the thyroid gland produces insufficient thyroid hormone. Can cause symptoms that overlap with menopausal symptoms — such as fatigue, weight gain, skipped periods, etc.
Hysterectomy: surgical removal of the uterus
Hysteroscopy: medical procedure in which a doctor uses a fiber-optic device to check for uterine abnormalities. Sometimes performed if you have abnormal uterine bleeding.
Isoflavones: form of phytoestrogen (or plant estrogen), found in soy, legumes, and other foods. The different isoflavones include genistein, daidzein, biochanin, and formononetin. May help prevent menopausal symptoms due to low estrogen levels — although many researchers recommend eating whole food products to get isoflavones (such as soy, etc.) rather than taking isoflavone isolates. (For more information see Natural Remedies).
Karyotype: chromosomal elements of a cell. Women who’ve been diagnosed with premature ovarian failure — particularly those who had primary amenorrhea (that is, never had periods) — may go through karotyping (chromosomal analysis) to see if there is a genetic cause for the premature ovarian failure.
Kegel Exercises: exercises which strengthen the muscles around the vagina and bladder opening; can also help treat a prolapsed uterus.
Laparoscopy (lap): procedure in which a small scope (a laparoscope) is inserted through a small incision in the abdomen and used to examine the pelvic organs. Often used in the diagnosis and treatment of endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), as well as assessment of the uterus and fallopian tubes. Hysterectomies can also be performed using laparoscopic surgery.
LAVH: laparoscope-assisted vaginal hysterectomy, in which a hysterectomy is performed via both the vagina and a laparoscopic incision in the abdomen
Lupus: See Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (below)
Luteal Phase: second half of your menstrual cycle, after the egg has been released. During this time, the burst follicle from your egg transforms into the corpus luteum which releases progesterone to help prepare the uterus for a possible pregnancy.
Luteinizing Hormone (LH): pituitary hormone that causes follicle to rupture and egg to be released; the surge of LH that does this is called (logically), the LH surge.
Menopause: the cessation (pause) of your periods (menses); technically, when you haven’t had periods for 12 consecutive months.
Menorrhagia: excessively heavy or long menstrual flow
Myoma: uterine fibroid
Myomectomy: surgical removal of a uterine fibroid.
Oophorectomy: surgical removal of the ovaries, resulting in surgical menopause.
Osteopenia: the precursor to osteoporosis, marked by bone thinning.
Osteoporosis: weakening of bones, leading to bone loss; often as a result of extended exposure to low estrogen levels. One of the primary risks of premature ovarian failure and early menopause.
Ovarian Failure: when the ovary fails to respond to follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) — and ovulation does not occur. This can be due to an autoimmune disorder, ovarian damage, or malformation of the ovary, among other things.
Ovaries: probably the most important gland in your body where reproduction is concerned. Your ovaries have two main jobs: manufacturing the key female hormones estrogen and progesterone, and producing eggs.
Ovulation: release of egg (ovum) from the ovarian follicle into the fallopian tube, where it can be fertilized when a sperm finds it.
Phytoestrogen: plants that have either plant-based estrogen or precursors to estrogen in them. Much weaker than the estrogen your body produces (at the most only about 2% of the strength of estradiol), but can produce an estrogenic response in your body and thus help with symptoms. In addition, phytoestrogens appear to help fight high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease, and may help fight against osteoporosis and lower the risk of cancer. Common forms of phytoestrogens include soy, flaxseed, and red clover. Often taken in place of HRT, but may also be taken with HRT under the supervision of a doctor. (See more on our helpsheet Natural Remedies).
Pituitary Gland: gland that controls hormonal functions in the body and oversees hormone production by the sex glands (the ovaries, in women), adrenal glands, and thyroid gland. Pituitary disorders (such as tumors) can cause amenorrhea — and, thus, be mistaken for early menopause.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (aka PCO, PCOD, PCOS):condition in which cysts grow in the ovaries — typically interfering with ovulation. May be detected by excessive androgen levels which can cause symptoms such as acne, hair growth and weight gain. Reversible condition, as it often can be treated through medication.
Polyp: growth or tumor that is usually non-cancerous, i.e. benign.
Premature Menopause: menopause (the cessation of periods) before the age of 40. Now more commonly referred to by the technical term premature ovarian failure (POF).
Premature Ovarian Failure (POF): as above, a condition in which periods stop (for 6 consecutive months or a full year) — before the age of 40. Marked by high FSH and low estrogen (both testing at post-menopausal levels) Unlike “regular” menopause, however, women with POF often periodically produce estrogen, grow follicles and ovulate.
Primary Amenorrhea: condition in which a woman never has a period in her life — usually due to genetic causes.
Progesterone (P4): in the body, the “pregnancy-preparation” hormone, produced by the corpus luteum during the second half of a woman’s cycle; responsible for preparing the uterus for a fertilized egg. In hormone replacement therapy, progesterone is the other widely prescribed hormone (with estrogen). Prescribed to protect the uterus against unopposed estrogen (which can cause excessive build-up and lead to hyperplasia or, worse, endometrial cancer).
Progesterone Challenge Test (also Progestin Challenge, Provera Challenge): a diagnostic test used when you’ve been experiencing amenorrhea (missed periods). Typically, you’re given progesterone or progestin for several days then wait to see if you have withdrawal bleeding within two weeks of the progesterone. This is used to determine whether you have enough estrogen in your system to bleed — and/or whether you need further testing. May also be used to induce a menstrual period and “jump start” your system.
Progesterone Withdrawal: bleeding occurring within a week or two after taking progesterone.
Progestin: synthetic form of progesterone. Most common types are medroxyprogesterone acetate (such as Provera) and norethindrone acetate. (For more on the different progestins, see Available Forms of HRT).
Prolactin: hormone responsible for the production of breast milk; high levels of prolactin may cause amenorrhea and may signal disorders such as hyperprolactinemia.
Prostaglandins: substances in the blood that regulate stickiness of blood platelets; help keep blood vessels toned and elastic; aid in function of the gastrointestinal tract; keep salt and water levels in your body balanced and more.
Reproductive Endocrinologist (RE): gynecologist with special training in the reproductive hormone system. Will treat reproductive disorders including premature ovarian failure (POF).
Reproductive Immunologist (RI): ob/gyn specialist in the treatment of immune-related reproductive disorders.
Secondary Amenorrhea: the absence of periods — for six months or more — in a woman who has had them before (in contrast to primary amenorrhea, in which the individual has never had periods).
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE, Lupus): an autoimmune disease that affects the connective tissues in the body. May cause a predisposition to premature ovarian failure (POF) and, on the other hand, premature ovarian failure may increase the risk of lupus.
TAH: Total abdominal hysterectomy
Testosterone: androgen (male) hormone produced in both men and — to a lesser extent — women. It promotes masculine characteristics such as hair growth. Boosts libido and energy; helps build bone and maintain muscle. Because it is produced by the ovaries and (to a lesser degree) the adrenal glands in women, it’s becoming more common to include this as part of a woman’s hormone replacement therapy (HRT), particularly for women who’ve had their ovaries removed.
Total Hysterectomy: surgical removal of the uterus and cervix.
Transvaginal Ultrasound: ultrasound using a vaginal probe; often used to determine follicle growth, detect fibroids, etc.
Tubal Ligation: the surgical tying or blocking of the fallopian tubes to provide contraception. In some cases, this procedure interferes with blood flow to the ovaries, resulting in early menopause.
Turner’s Syndrome: a genetic disorder that can cause premature ovarian failure, in which a woman is born without the second X chromosome or without part of it. Causes deficient ovarian development — and often primary amenorrhea.
Uterine Prolapse: occurs when the ligaments that hold the uterus in its place in the pelvis weaken — and the uterus tilts or slips, sometimes protruding into the vagina. This may occur when estrogen levels are low. Can be treated surgically — or non-surgically through Kegel exercises, which strengthen the pelvic muscles. Other treatments include estrogen supplementation, or use of a pessary — a rubber diaphragm-like device that fits around the cervix.
Vaginal Atrophy: the thinning and shortening of the vagina, as a result of low estrogen — causing painful sex, etc. (Note: this is a reversible condition, once you raise your estrogen levels).