Early menopause – What is it?
The United States Office on Women’s Health defines early menopause as any onset of symptoms related to menopause occurring between the ages of 40-45. Prior to the age of 40, a woman who finds herself undergoing menopause is suffering from what is known as premature menopause. This can indicate an underlying health condition and should be investigated by your primary caregiver.
Early menopause, on the other hand, is perfectly natural. In fact, roughly 5% of women will experience early menopause between the ages of 40-45.
While these are different conditions, they have similar symptoms. Namely, the body stops producing the hormones necessary for pregnancy, leading to an inability to become pregnant. Early menopause can occur naturally, or it can be stimulated by certain medical conditions or procedures, such as in the case of a hysterectomy or removal of the ovaries.
What causes early menopause?
As has been stated, early menopause can be the result of natural processes or can be stimulated by certain medical conditions or procedures. Some causes are represented in the following:
- Genetic Predisposition – A family history of early or premature menopause can make it more likely for a woman to have early or premature menopause.
- Smoking – Smoking has been positively identified as a risk factor for early-onset menopause and can result in more severe symptoms, regardless of when menopause begins, according to this study on the impact of smoking on women’s health. Additionally, smoking in conjunction with early menopause is correlated with dying earlier, according to another study published in the national library of medicine.
- Chemotherapy and radiation treatment – while important for the treatment of many cancers and associated conditions, chemotherapy and radiation treatment can have a variety of harsh consequences for the body, including the onset of early menopause. In some cases, this can lead to a merely temporary loss of fertility, and with proper recovery, you may be able to have children again. This is not a sure symptom of chemotherapy, but it can be one side effect.
- Bilateral ovarian surgery– Having both ovaries surgically removed can lead to the immediate onset of menopausal symptoms. Following a double ovarian surgery, you will cease having periods, and hormone levels will quickly drop. This can lead to strong menopausal symptoms, including loss of interest in sexual activity, as well as hot flashes.
- Hysterectomy – surgery to remove the uterus is often not accompanied by ovarian removal. In this instance, since your ovaries are still producing hormones, you will often not go through menopause early, even though you can’t get pregnant. However, a hysterectomy can also lead to early menopause.
Symptoms of early menopause
Primary symptoms of early menopause include the cessation of periods as well as the inability to become pregnant. Additional symptoms may include some or all of the following:
- night sweats
- vaginal dryness, as well as discomfort during sex
- reduced sex drive
- memory or concentration problems
- insomnia or difficulty sleeping
- hot flashes
In addition, early menopause can lead to an increased risk of disorders, such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease, due to the associated dip in estrogen levels.
What do I do about it?
If you begin to experience symptoms associated with early or menopause, be sure and see your OBGYN here at the Memphis Obstetrics & Gynecological Association. We will work with you to develop a treatment plan tailored to your particular case. Some common treatments include:
- Hormone replacement therapy – you may be prescribed one or a combination of supplemental hormones, such as estrogen or progestin, to offset the symptoms of early or premature menopause. This will be continued until roughly age 50, at which time menopause should present with less troublesome symptoms. Additionally, these treatments can mitigate the risk of cardiovascular disorder or osteoporosis associated with early menopause. However, these treatments can lead to an increased risk of stroke, blood clots, or certain cancers in some women, so it’s important to work with your doctor to find the treatment that’s right for you.
- Supplemental vitamin D and calcium – this is a safe and effective means of mitigating increased risks of osteoporosis posed by early menopause.
- Infertility strategies – Depending on your particular situation, you may be able to become pregnant regardless of the onset of early menopause. Strategies such as in vitro fertilization and donor egg use can be effective.
You’re not alone
We know it can be difficult to deal with the concerns surrounding possible early menopause. But remember – you’re not alone! These symptoms are experienced by millions of women each year, and your doctors at the Memphis Obstetrics & Gynecological Association are well-trained to help you deal with them effectively, safely, and compassionately. Call today, and let us give you the peace of mind you need.