Normal menopause, the cessation of ovulation, occurs around age 51 for women who live in the U.S. Your doctor will determine you’ve officially reached menopause once you have not had a period for 12 consecutive months. In most cases, women will have had mild to moderate menopause symptoms anywhere from their late 30s through their early 50s until their periods stop completely. However, in rare cases, women begin menopause much earlier. Early (or premature) menopause is determined when a woman has stopped ovulating before age 40.
While this condition is rare, it does happen. Early menopause isn’t dangerous or a serious cause for concern. However, your lowered estrogen levels combined with other physiologic and psychological changes are worth paying attention to so you can take the necessary steps to be as happy and healthy as possible.
Premature Menopause: Causes and Symptoms
Premature menopause is most frequently caused by a condition called “Premature Ovarian Failure”. It occurs when ovarian follicles (that mature into viable eggs) cease working before the age of 40. There are countless causes for this, including a genetic predisposition, lower than normal numbers of follicles or hormonal imbalances.
Additional causes of premature or early menopause include:
- Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation
- Chronic illness
- Certain medications
- Pituitary or hypothalamus tumors
- Causes that have yet to be defined
Symptoms of premature menopause are the same as their perimenopause counterparts:
- Irregular periods or periods that have seemed to stop completely
- Hot flashes
- Unusual weight gain or inability to get rid of unwanted weight
- Lack of libido
- Vaginal dryness or irritability/pain during sex
All of these symptoms are signs that the ovaries are producing lower quantities of estrogen, an important hormone in the fertility cycle.
Please Note: There are many other causes for irregular or missed periods. Please make an appointment with your OB/GYN anytime you feel your menstrual cycle has veered from its regular course. As with most things in life, the sooner you tend to any potential issues, the better.
Premature Menopause Can Affect Your Overall Health
Menopause means the end of fertility but it also means a decline in the production of hormones that have a positive effect on your overall health. The same health risks that apply to menopausal women, osteoporosis, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, etc., become a risk for women who experience early menopause – which means you are at risk for longer.
Mental health. Yes, menopause can bring its fair share of moodiness and irritability, but it can also increase depression rates. This is especially true for women who go through early menopause if they were planning on having a later pregnancy. Speak with a therapist or other mental health professional to ensure you are getting the mental and emotional support you need as you go through this transition.
Decreased bone density. Our bodies add more bone tissue than they lose until we reach age 30. Estrogen is partially responsible for this. When estrogen production decreases, bone density does as well, which puts you at risk for osteoporosis. Speak to your OB/GYN about the correct calcium supplementation to make sure your body is getting what it needs. Also, begin prioritizing weight-bearing exercises that stimulate bone tissue production.
Heart Disease and Diabetes. Experts now believe that estrogen helps to make arterial walls stronger and more flexible, which is why menopause puts women at greater risk for heart disease. Also, the metabolism slows during menopause and women often gain excess weight that can lead to type 2 diabetes. Eating a well-balanced diet and getting plenty of regular exercise is your best defense against these two conditions.
If you believe you are going through early menopause, schedule an appointment with Overlake OB/GYN and we will get you on the right track to a vibrant and healthy future.