Doctors remain puzzled at the increase in early menopause experienced by women under the age of 40. Without well-founded medical reasons, 1 in 20 women now go through the change well before the average age of 51. Premature menopause not only leaves women infertile at an early age, it also leaves them at greater risk for bone disease, strokes, and heart attacks later in life.
When referring to menopause, what is considered early?
The national average for menopause in American women is 51. At this age, the process is a natural occurrence, however, when menopause is experienced by women under the age of 40 it is considered premature or early menopause.
Causes of early menopause
There are instances where premature menopause does happen naturally, though in most cases the onset is caused by an illness, medical treatment, or medical procedure. These medical conditions can include chemotherapy, or surgery to remove the uterus (hysterectomy), or removal of the ovaries (bilateral oophorectomy).
When early menopause occurs naturally it is generally due to conditions such as chromosome defects similar to those found in women with Turner’s syndrome. Genetics can play a huge role in the onset of premature menopause. Women with a family history of early menopause are likely to experience the condition themselves. Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and Thyroid disease can also encourage premature menopause.
Symptoms of early menopause
Whether you’re experiencing premature menopause or natural menopause the symptoms will be the same. You will go through bouts of missed or irregular periods, hot flashes; which are a sudden feeling of warmth in the upper body, and periods that are either lighter or heavier than normal. You may also notice bladder irritability, dry skin, dry eyes or mouth, a decrease in sex drive, vaginal dryness, emotional changes, and bouts of fatigue.
Premature menopause, which is also referred to as premature ovarian failure or primary ovarian insufficiency, refers to the decreased activity of the ovaries. Women who are experiencing premature menopause should note that even though the ovaries are producing fewer hormones, menstrual periods can return and make pregnancy possible.
Speak to your doctor if you are uncertain whether you are going through premature menopause. He or she will perform a physical exam and take blood samples to rule out other conditions. Your doctor may perform a test that measures your estradiol levels, which are a form of estrogen. If the levels read below 30, it is a sign you may be in menopause. Another test measuring your FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) will also determine your level of estrogen. An FSH reading above 40 mIU/mL normally indicates menopause.