Menopause that progresses naturally typically occurs around the age of fifty-one years old. However, some women will go through menopause before the age of forty. In rarer cases, women thirty and younger may also experience menopause. In any case, this is what is termed, “premature menopause.”
A woman undergoing premature menopause will experience the same signs and symptoms as any other menopausal woman – hot flashes, vaginal dryness, night sweats, irritability, changes in menstrual cycles (length, flow, increased irregularity).
Any of the following may indicate that a woman may experience premature menopause:
She has had chemotherapy or radiation treatments
She has hypothyroidism, lupus, or Graves’ disease
She has not been able to become pregnant for more than 12 months
Her mother or sister were prematurely menopausal
It is absolutely imperative to see your doctor if any one of these conditions are present.
All menopausal women have lower estrogen levels, because the ovaries gradually stop producing it; however, when a woman goes through premature menopause, it means she will spend a greater part of her life without the protective health benefits of her own estrogen.
The following information provides insight on the particulars of premature menopause:
Diagnosing premature menopause requires a gynecological exam and blood test to rule out other conditions, such as pregnancy and thyroid disease. Such testing can include a review of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) to confirm the decrease of estrogen, as well as the testing of estradiol (estrogen) levels to determine if ovaries are failing.
Some natural medical conditions can boost the chances of premature menopause, such as having had childhood cancer, breast cancer, an autoimmune disorder (rheumatoid arthritis or thyroid disease), or chromosomal irregularities (Turner’s Syndrome). There are also times when induced medical procedures before the age of forty bring about early onset menopause, such as removal of the ovaries and other surgeries that remove any part of the reproductive system, or ovarian cyst removal. Viral infections while the mother is pregnant can also be a determining factor in early menopause.
Health risks associated with premature menopause can be serious and long term. The most common risks are:
Cardiovascular disease – broad range of heart-related disorders
Neurological disease – such as early onset Parkinson’s Disease
Cancer – ovarian, colon, and breast
Osteoporosis – loss of bone mass
Psychiatric problems – mental and emotional
Treatment of premature menopause involves estrogen therapy, which is recommended to lower the chance of incurring other health risks.
Often ignored, but very important to a woman’s emotional health is the impact premature menopause has on fertility. Experiencing early onset menopause diminishes the chances of being able to conceive, which can be very detrimental in terms of mental health. The societal trend of today is planned parenthood, with more women electing to have children after the age of thirty versus in their twenties, as was the common age in prior years.
When a woman becomes infertile due to early onset menopause, she will most likely face a life without biological children, the impact of which may affect her marriage, her career, and her overall well-being. Premature menopause requires pro-active and intense involvement from both the woman and her doctor. The side effects and complications are too risky to ignore.