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Glossary Of Terms
We've compiled this comprehensive listing for you to find the definitions for terminology related to perimenopause, menopause and other women's health issues.
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Adrenal Glands: Two small glands situated atop the kidneys. The adrenal glands secrete steroid hormones and stress hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine (sometimes known as adrenaline).
Amenorrhea: The absence of menstrual bleeding in a woman who has not gone through menopause; may be due to such things as prolonged stress, thyroid disorders, excessive exercise, eating disorders, premature ovarian failure and others.
Androgen: Any steroid hormone that promotes male characteristics. Testosterone, androstenedione and DHEA are examples. In women, these hormones and hormone precursors are produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands, and their levels vary with menstrual cycle phase.
Bartholin's Glands: The two glands located on the wall near the opening of the vagina. These glands help lubricate the vagina; also called greater vestibular glands.
Benign: Not cancerous.
Bio-identical Hormones: Hormone products formulated (usually from plant sources) to match the chemical structure and effect of hormones produced naturally by the human body. Biologically the same as human hormones, they are more commonly known as natural hormones.
Calcitonin: A hormone made in the thyroid gland which controls the level of calcium and phosphorus in the blood and to start bone production; normally calcitonin is released by the thyroid to lower the blood level of calcium and phosphorus and to prevent calcium from being taken in again by the bones.
Cholesterol: An important steroid that is the precursor for the body to make sex hormones, adrenal hormones, and other molecules. A component of all animal fats and oils. It is found in the blood in three forms:
Climacteric: A period of years when a woman's hormone levels gradually decline and ending with the last menstrual period.
Compounding Pharmacy: A pharmacy which offers all forms of natural hormones made to your doctor's specifications. A compounding pharmacy will also send requested information packets to you and/or to your doctor.
Continuous Combined HRT: When some form of estrogen and a progestin/progesterone are taken every day of the month. This style of therapy is intended to eliminate monthly bleeding, but in reality it does not always succeed. It seems to work better for women at least a year or two postmenopause. It may take up to a year for spotting/bleeding to stop. Increasing the progestin dose may help reduce the spotting/bleeding. The undesired spotting and bleeding may result in increased physician visits and testing.
Corpus Luteum: A mound of yellow tissue that forms in the wall of the ovary where an egg (ovum) has just been released; it produces progesterone. Should a woman skip an ovulation, her ovaries would not produce progesterone for that month.
Corticosteroids: Also known as adrenal cortical hormones and corticoids, steroid hormones (excluding sex hormones) that are secreted by the adrenal cortex. The two major groups: glucocorticoids affect fat, carbohydrate and protein metabolism, and mineral corticoids affect the regulation of electrolyte and water balance. Cortisol is a glucocorticoid, and aldosterone is a mineral corticoid.
Cortisol: A sterol (related to steroid) secreted by the adrenal cortex. A major glucocorticoid which affects fat, carbohydrate and protein metabolism. High doses lead to interference with proper functioning of the immune system.
Crinone: The brand name for a natural progesterone gel suppository.
Cyclical Hormone Therapy: see Sequential Hormone Therapy.
Danazol: A drug used in the treatment of endometriosis.
Designer Estrogens: SERMs (Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators). Act as anti-estrogens in breast tissue while having estrogenic effects elsewhere in the body; can often cause hot flashes and other menopausal type symptoms. Have some beneficial effect on bone, less on heart. Two examples are tamoxifen and raloxifene (brand name Evista). Both are being considered for breast cancer prevention in high-risk women because of their anti-estrogen effect in the breast.
DEXA: Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry. Highly reliable means of measuring bone mineral density using very small amounts of radiation.
Diosgenin: A substance found in the roots of plants such as yams and soy which, in the laboratory, can be formulated into hormone molecules.
Dysmenorrhea: Painful menstrual periods.
Dyspareunia: Pain during sexual intercourse. Also see vaginismus.
Endogenous: A term which means coming from inside the body (the opposite of exogenous, which has to do with outside the body). For instance, the hormones produced by the body are said to be endogenous. Supplemented hormones are known as exogenous.
Endometrium: The lining of the uterus shed with each period.
Endometriosis: A condition where active endometrial tissue (normally found only inside the uterine cavity) grows outside the uterus scattered about the abdomen and pelvic cavities.. Endometriosis causes severe pain at the time of menses due to the cyclical bleeding of the endometrial tissue in abnormal locations where the blood acts as an irritant to other organs.
Endometrial hyperplasia: An overgrowth of the lining of the uterus which is due to too much estrogen for a period of time and not enough progesterone.
Enzymes: Proteins produced by living cells that function as catalysts in specific biochemical reactions, such as hormone conversion.
Estrace: A brand name for a natural estrogen supplement which is 17 Beta-estradiol; identical to the human estradiol molecule and available since the late '70s. Comes in oral and cream forms.
Estradiol (E2): The most bioactive and potent of the estrogens found in the body, and the most predominant estrogen produced by the human ovary prior to menopause. Responsible for over 400 functions in the human body.
Estrogen: Refers to the group of female hormones produced primarily by the ovaries and responsible for regulating certain reproductive functions. There are 3 predominant estrogens in a woman's body: estradiol, estriol, and estrone.
Estrogen Patch: One kind of estrogen supplement, the patch is worn on the skin and contains natural estradiol which is slowly released. Some brand names are Alora, Climara, Estraderm, FemPatch, and Vivelle.
Estrogen Replacement Therapy (ERT): A regimen in which only estrogen is supplemented, often prescribed for women after hysterectomies. NOT recommended for women who have a uterus.
Estriol (E3): The estrogen produced in large amounts during pregnancy.
Estrone (E1): The endogenous estrogen naturally present after menopause; also made in the fat cells after meno. While some studies show estrone is involved in the bone-building process, it is also thought to be the primary culprit in increased risks of endometrial and breast cancers.
Exogenous: A descriptive term to mean beginning outside the body.
Fibroids: Non-cancerous growths of the uterus consisting of muscle and fibrous tissue, growing independent of surrounding tissue and having no positive physiological function. Usually benign, but can turn malignant under certain conditions. A common cause of heavy bleeding in women.
Follicle: Cell structures within the ovary that contain an egg.
FSH: Follicle Stimulating Hormone. A pituitary gland hormone that stimulates the growth and aging of the graafian follicles in the ovary. Also called menotropins.
Follicular phase: The 1st part of the menstrual cycle, when follicles in the ovary grow to prepare for the releasing of the egg.
Gonadotrophins: A collective term for follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and lutenising hormone (LH).
Hormone: A chemical messenger produced by a gland or organ that influences a number of metabolic actions in our cells.
Hypothalamus: The control center situated at the base of the brain which regulates functions of the autonomic nervous system and hormonal system, such as body temperature, thirst, appetite, and sex drive. Releases hormones that travel to the pituitary gland and stimulate release of pituitary hormones, which govern the other endocrine glands.
Hysterectomy: Surgical removal of the uterus.
Insulin: A hormone made by the pancreas that helps regulate blood sugar levels.
In vivo: Means occurring in a living organism.
Libido: Sex drive.
Lumpectomy: Surgery to remove only the abnormal breast tissue; usually followed by radiation therapy.
Luteinizing Hormone (LH): A pituitary-produced hormone which triggers ovulation and the development of the corpus luteum.
Mammogram: An x-ray of the breast.
Mastectomy: Surgery to remove the breast.
Menorrhagia: Excessive bleeding from the uterus which occurs at the regular times of the menstrual periods but the bleeding is heavier than usual and may last longer than usual.
Metabolism: The chemical and physical processes continuously going on in the body involving creation and breakdown of molecules; a process utilizing the raw materials of nutrients, oxygen, and vitamins, along with enzymes, to produce energy for bodily functions.
Micronized/Micronization: A process designed to decrease particle size of hormones, including progesterone and estradiol. Micronization allows the formulation of natural hormone products that have a longer half-life, reduced destruction in the gastrointestinal tract, and enhanced bioavailability.
Molecule: The smallest possible quantity of atoms that retains the chemical properties of an element or compound. A molecule is made up of 2 or more atoms that are chemically combined.
Myomectomy: The surgical removal of a uterine fibroid tumour.
Natural Hormones: Hormone products formulated (usually from plant sources) to be bio-identical (biologically the same) in structure to hormone molecules produced by the human body. The crucial variable defining "natural" is whether the hormone's chemical structure matches that of the hormone it is intended to replace, not where it came from or how it is produced. Because they are chemically identical to our own naturally occurring hormones, natural hormones are easily metabolized by the body.
Natural hormone replacement therapy (NHRT): Use of bio-identical (natural) hormones such as estradiol and micronized progesterone instead of the conventional Premarin or progestins. Natural hormones are available both in brand-name products and from compounding pharmacies, which can supply any of the bio-identical hormones alone or combine them into one dose in the form desired (e.g, sublingual tablets, oil caps, or cream).
Natural Micronized Progesterone: A hormone product that is bio-identical to endogenous progesterone. Available as micronized progesterone USP and referred to as natural progesterone. Prescribed for treatment of infertility and as part of hormone replacement regimens in menopausal women who still have their uteruses. Used in the PEPI trials.
Oophorectomy: Surgical removal of the ovaries.
Osteoporosis: A condition in which bones lose mass and become porous and brittle. Frequently leads to fractured spine, wrists or hips in elderly women.
Ovarian Failure: When the ovaries run out of eggs.
Ovaries: The pair of female reproductive organs on either side of the uterus that produce eggs and hormones (estrogen, progesterone and small amounts of testosterone).
Ovulation: The release of the egg mid-cycle each month.
Parathyroid Hormone (PH): A hormone, synthesized and released by the parathyroid glands, that controls the distribution of calcium and phosphate in the bones.
PDR: Physicians' Desk Reference. Doctors rely on the PDR for all FDA-approved drug information they need when they prescribe medications. Many doctors will not prescribe anything not included in this reference.
PEPI Trial: Postmenopausal Estrogen/Progestin Interventions Trial, or PEPI, was a major 3-yr clinical study started in 1987 to learn more about estrogen's possible benefits and risks. The results were published in December, 1995. It was conducted at seven clinical centers across the United States and followed 875 healthy postmenopausal women, ages 45-64. The women were placed into 5 groups
Perimenopause: Also known as premenopause. The years prior to menopause when menstrual periods and ovulations begin to be skipped and some menopausal symptoms might occur, such as hot flashes, bone loss or sleep changes. Length of time for premeno and age of onset vary widely.
Phantom period: This is having all the premenstrual symptoms leading up to a period, like cramping, chocolate cravings, bloating and breast soreness but not having any vaginal bleeding.
Phytoestrogens: Plant compounds with estrogen-like activity. They are usually considerably weaker than natural estrogens and compete for the same estrogen receptor sites throughout the body. They have often been used to decrease symptoms of estrogen excess.
Phytosterols: Any of the various sterols (fatty substances) obtained from plants. Sterols are composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen arranged in a multiple ring-like structure. Bile, sex and adrenal hormones and vitamin D contain sterols.
Pituitary Gland: Small endocrine gland situated at the base of the brain which supplies many hormones that govern many vital and needed processes of the body such as growth and metabolism; secretes the hormones controlling ovulation, for instance.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: An inherited hormonal imbalance that won't allow eggs to be expelled from the ovaries. It can lead to extremely irregular or heavy menstrual periods, lack of periods, infertility, endometrial and uterine cancer, male-pattern hair growth and fat deposition, weight gain, insulin resistance and increased risk for cardiovascular disease, among other things.
Postmenopause: The time after menopause.
Pregnenolone: A precursor hormone made primarily in the adrenal glands, but also in the brain, liver, skin, and ovaries. It can convert to DHEA and progesterone and all the adrenal steroid hormones, including testosterone and estrogen.
Premarin: Conjugated estrogens. An estrogen supplement created primarily from the urine of pregnant mares; while the ingredients are natural to horses, they are not natural to humans, and so therefore Premarin is essentially a synthetic estrogen. Comes in varying oral doses and also a vaginal cream.
Premenopause: See Perimenopause
Progestational hormones: A class of sex hormones including endogenous progesterone, natural progesterone, and the various progestins (see progestational hormones, synthetic). Also called progestogens.
Progestational hormones, synthetic: Compounds obtained by chemical synthesis that have some progesterone-like actions (e.g., in the uterus), but differ in structure from progesterone. Also called progestins.
Progesterone: Endogenous hormone produced in the corpus luteum of the female ovaries to prepare the endometrium for egg implantation and to maintain pregnancy. Serves to oppose (balance) estrogen, promotes proliferation of uterine mucosa and prevents further follicular development.
Progestin: Any of a group of hormone products that are formulated in a laboratory from progesterone or testosterone and that have progesterone-like effects on the uterus. Often referred to as synthetic because the chemical structure differs from naturally occurring hormone molecules. Progestins are included in hormonal contraceptives including birth control pills and the new birth control skin patch, and are prescribed as part of HRT in menopausal women who still have their uteruses, but they are contraindicated in pregnancy. Medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA) and norethindrone acetate (NETA) are two common progestins.
Progestogen: An umbrella term applied to any substance possessing progestational activity. A steroid hormone (including progesterone) that induces changes in the endometrium after priming with estrogens. There can be substantial differences between progestogens, both in chemical structure and in pharmacological profile.
Prolactin: pituitary hormone that stimulates milk production and also suppresses ovarian function in the early postpartum days. It also has hormone regulating functions during the menstrual cycle.
Raloxifene: A purified form of tamoxifen (see designer estrogens). Appears to be less estrogenic than tamoxifen in the endometrium, and may be less likely to cause uterine cancer. Brand name Evista.
Receptor: A special arrangement on a cell that recognizes a molecule and interacts with it. This allows the molecule to either enter the cell or stimulate it in a certain way.
Serotonin: A brain chemical that relays messages between brain cells (neurons) which regulates sleep, mood, libido, appetite. Can also be converted into melatonin. Made from dietary sources of the amino acid tryptophan.
Sequential HRT: Also known as Cyclical Hormone Therapy. Some form of estrogen is taken every day OR approximately three weeks of the month, along with a progestin or progesterone which is taken usually 10-14 days of the month, beginning in mid-cycle. This style of taking hormones mimics normal menstrual cycle, allowing the endometrium to build up and shed each month, generally resulting in regular monthly "withdrawal" bleeding which begins shortly after one stops the progestin/progesterone. Bleeding at other times or heavy bleeding usually needs to be checked out by your doctor. The timing of the monthly bleeding can be programmed by when one chooses to start the "month," e.g. one can choose the 10th or 15th of the month as Day One.
SERMs (Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators): See Designer estrogens.
Synthetic Hormones: Refers to hormone products created in the lab to be molecularly similar, but not identical, to endogenous human hormones.
Synthetic Progesterone or Synthetic Progestin (See Progestin)
Synthroid: A medicine used for thyroid supplementation.
TAH/BSO (Total Abdominal Hysterectomy/Bilateral Salpingo-Oophorectomy): Removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes during a total hysterectomy.
Tamoxifen: One of the designer estrogen drugs (SERMs). Used in breast cancer patients to prevent recurrence; being considered for breast cancer prevention in high-risk women because of anti-estrogen effect in the breast. (Also see raloxifene and designer estrogens)
Testosterone: Considered a male hormone (androgen), but also produced in smaller quantities by the female body. Deficiency in women's testosterone is associated with loss of bone density, loss of libido, and loss of the sense of well being.
Thyroid Gland: Gland which produces the major hormones of metabolism, thyroxine and tri-iodothyronine. It is situated in front of the larynx. Imbalance of the thyroid might require supplementation of thyroid medication; some common names are Synthroid, Armour, Nature thyroid and Cytomel.
TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone): A hormone produced by the brain which regulates production and release of thyroid hormones.
Tri-Estrogen/Tri-est: A natural estrogen supplement composed of 80% estriol, 10% estradiol, and 10% estrone. Can also be compounded as Bi-est, with only estriol and estradiol. Comes in transdermal (cream), oral and sublingual form.
Triglyceride: One of the blood fats that the body can use to make cholesterol; elevated TG (from diet, alcohol intake, lack of exercise, and some drugs) are a significant risk factor for heart disease particularly for women.
Unopposed HRT: Any HRT regimen containing estrogen only. NOT recommended for women who have a uterus.
Ultrasound Scan: A method of visualizing internal organs, blood vessels, and fetus by utilizing high-frequency sound waves. Does not involve radiation.
Uterus: The womb.
Vagina: The passage or canal leading from the uterus to the vulva.
Vaginal Atrophy: A condition which causes the lining of the vagina to become dry and lose its elasticity. Can also cause urinary tract infections.
Vulva: External female genitalia.
Vulvodynia: A syndrome of unknown etiology characterized by chronic vulvar discomfort that can result in both physical and emotional pain in the lives of affected women
Xenoestrogens: Refer to environmental compounds (usually petrochemicals) that generally have very potent estrogen-like activity and can be considered very toxic. There is mounting evidence that exposure to xenoestrogens may be a significant causal factor in breast cancer, testicular cancer and prostate cancer, and decline in male sperm production.
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