What is Early Menopause?
The onset of menopause is a natural process that occurs at various ages, so it is difficult to determine what constitutes early menopause.
However, as 51 is the average age for reaching menopause in the US, and most women experience menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, it is justifiable to say that menopause reached before the age of 45 can be classed as early menopause.
Women can experience the menopause as early as 20, although this is very rare, and this would certainly be regarded as early menopause. Early menopause can be caused by a number of genetic, environmental, or medical factors, but in some cases the cause of early menopause is never established.
How is Early Menopause different to Premature Menopause?
The terms ‘early menopause’ and ‘premature menopause’ are fairly interchangeable. Some people define menopause reached before the age of 45 as ‘early menopause’, and menopause reached before the age of 40 as ‘premature menopause’.
Other people refer to menopause caused by a medical intervention such as a hysterectomy as ‘premature menopause’, and menopause that occurs naturally before the age of 45 as ‘early menopause’.
It is useful to be aware of these definitions when reading about early menopause, but there is no real consensus on when to use one term or the other.
Causes of Early Menopause and Premature Menopause
There are a number of possible causes of early menopause or premature menopause, but there are some occasions when the reasons behind early menopause can not be identified. The causes can be categorised into three main areas:
Genetic factors – can play a part in early menopause. If a close family member has experienced early menopause, there is a greater chance that you will do so as well.
Environmental factors – such as stress, bad nutrition, excessive drinking and smoking can cause premature menopause in some women.
Medical factors – including a number of autoimmune diseases can cause early menopause. A number of medical procedures can cause premature menopause either by removing the ovaries, causing instant menopause, or by damaging the ovaries thereby speeding up the onset of menopause. Please see the page on surgical menopause for further information.
It is very rare that the supply of eggs in a woman’s ovaries will run out, leading to early menopause. Usually early menopause occurs because the body fails to respond to the signs that it should ovulate, even though there are eggs available. There are occasions when a lack of eggs can cause early menopause and these include:
A severe viral infection such as mumps can affect a woman’s supply of eggs
Radiation therapy or chemotherapy can reduce the number of eggs in the ovaries
A woman may be born with a low supply of eggs in her ovaries
Early Menopause Symptoms
Early menopause symptoms are similar to those of regular menopause. The five main early menopause symptoms are:
Loss of sex drive
There is a condition known as ‘diminished ovarian reserve’, which occurs when a woman experiences some early menopause symptoms, but continues to have regular periods. This is often a sign that premature menopause is on its way.
Risks of Early Menopause
Women who experience early menopause are at a greater risk of developing diseases associated with post menopause including osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
In order to pre-empt these diseases, women who find they are going through menopause early should consult their doctor as soon as possible. They will be able to recommend the best course of action, possibly a course or HRT if this is thought to be suitable.
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