Early menopause is when a person reaches menopause, either naturally or induced, before the age of 45 years. When a person experiences menopause at or before the age of 40 years, doctors refer to this as premature menopause.
Induced menopause can happen following the removal of the ovaries or due to damage to these organs, such as through chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Natural causes of premature or early menopause include genetics and some underlying health conditions.
When menopause starts early, people will experience the typical effects of this natural transition. Keep reading for more information on early or premature menopause, including the signs, causes, risk factors, and treatment options.
Menopause typically starts between the ages of 45 and 55 years. The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) state that the average age for menopause is 51 years.
According to NAMS, premature menopause occurs in about 1% of women in the United States.
Menopause symptoms vary among individuals. Those who enter menopause early may also experience it differently.
Most people dealing with premature or early menopause will notice that their periods change. Periods can become longer or shorter, and their frequency can change.
In addition, people may experience symptoms such as:
- spotting, which is bleeding between periods
- extended time between periods
- heavy bleeding
- periods that can last longer than a week
Other symptoms may include:
- vaginal dryness
- hot flashes
- mood swings
- changes in sexual desire
- difficulty sleeping
- loss of bladder control
- night sweats
People should talk to their doctor if they notice any of these symptoms. Although they may be a sign of early menopause, other underlying conditions can sometimes cause similar symptoms.
In some cases, people can go into early menopause as a result of undergoing medical procedures. For example, removal of the ovaries can cause people to experience premature or early menopause.
In other cases, early menopause may be the result of medical treatments, such as radiation or chemotherapy. Both radiation and chemotherapy can cause the ovaries to stop functioning normally, which can lead to premature or early menopause.
There are several other potential causes of premature or early menopause, as well as factors that can increase its likelihood. These include:
- genetic predisposition
- having obesity or overweight
- lack of exercise
- chromosomal defects
- autoimmune disorders
People with a predisposition to early menopause should discuss any concerns with their doctor, particularly if they are starting to show any signs or symptoms of menopause.
A doctor can usually confirm that a person has entered menopause if they have gone for 12 months without a menstrual cycle, and no other underlying conditions can explain their symptoms.
In these cases, a doctor may not need to carry out any tests. However, on some occasions, they may order hormone tests to check whether the symptoms may be due to other underlying conditions.
Some people may not require any treatment for early menopause, but options are available for those who do.
People who experience symptoms of menopause or have other health risk factors may opt for treatment. Most treatments will work to reduce the symptoms that a person is experiencing.
If premature menopause starts before the age of 40 years, a person may undergo hormone replacement therapy.
Hormone replacement therapy helps replace the estrogen that a person has typically lost prior to menopause. In addition, it will treat many other symptoms of menopause.
However, hormone replacement therapy is not for everyone, as it has several associated risks. These include heart disease, breast cancer, and stroke.
People can discuss their situation with their doctor to determine whether hormone therapy is the best course of action for their condition.
There is currently no way to reverse premature or early menopause. However, treatment can help treat the symptoms or delay the progression.
A small 2016 study, in which 30 menopausal women received an injection of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) into their ovaries, had promising findings.
The PRP seemed to rejuvenate the ovaries, leading to the restoration of menstruation and egg fertilization. The treatment appeared to work in about two-thirds of the participants.
However, additional research is necessary to prove that this method is effective.
The most common condition associated with early menopause is infertility. If a woman goes through menopause, she is no longer releasing eggs, which means that she cannot become pregnant.
Menopause stops the steady supply of estrogen that helps regulate the menstrual cycle. Estrogen has many functions within the body, and losing the supply at a younger-than-average age can put people at a higher risk of developing:
- heart disease
Often, a doctor will prescribe hormone replacement therapy to help prevent conditions that relate to a loss of estrogen.
Anyone who is experiencing symptoms of early menopause should talk to their doctor. Those who still want to have or expand a family can talk to their doctor about options such as:
- egg donation
- hormone therapy
- in vitro fertilization (IVF)
In addition, some suggestions to try to help people cope with premature menopause include:
- talking to a healthcare professional, friend, or close family member about the feelings and emotions that can come with entering menopause early
- seeking professional counseling
- writing down feelings in a journal
- eating a healthful, balanced diet
- exercising regularly
A person who goes through early or premature menopause will experience symptoms of menopause at a younger age than usual, which may affect them both physically and emotionally.
A person can talk to their doctor if they believe that they are experiencing premature or early menopause. In some cases, the signs and symptoms may be the result of another underlying condition.
People may need treatment for any underlying conditions or to relieve symptoms.