Women experience menopause at varying ages, usually in their late 40s or 50s. The national average in the US is age 52, however, some women reach menopause early. This can increase the chance of complications like osteoporosis and heart disease. It also means that a woman’s fertile period is shortened and she can no longer conceive a child. Because of these negative factors, you might be wondering if there is anything you can do to prevent early menopause.

What is Considered Early Menopause?

Menopause that happens before age 45 is considered premature. According to the Office on Women’s Health, about 5% of women naturally go through early menopause.

Menopause is when you stop menstruating permanently and is reached after it has been twelve consecutive months since your last period (including spotting). You no longer ovulate and pregnancy is no longer possible.

Premature or early menopause does not always have a clear cause. However, the following have all been linked to early menopause:

  • Family history
  • Chromosomal abnormalities
  • Autoimmune disease
  • HIV and AIDS
  • Surgical removal of the ovaries
  • Surgical removal of the uterus
  • Chemotherapy
  • Pelvic radiation treatments for cancer
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Smoking

Early menopause is not the same as perimenopause, which is the transitional period before menopause in which periods become irregular. Symptoms like hot flashes, sexual changes, and mood swings may begin during perimenopause.

Sometimes premature menopause is confused with primary ovarian insufficiency, previously known as premature ovarian failure. The two conditions share many symptoms because they are both caused by a lack of estrogen. Primary ovarian insufficiency is when the ovaries stop normal functioning before age 40. However, women with premature ovarian insufficiency may still get irregular periods and pregnancy is even possible. A woman with premature menopause cannot get pregnant and has not menstruated for a full year.

Can it be Prevented?

Many things can contribute to early menopause, so it is difficult to pinpoint definitive ways to prevent it. There is some evidence that certain things may affect when you experience menopause, so while there is no guarantee, you can make lifestyle changes to better your chances of avoiding early menopause. Pay attention to the following:

  • Smoking: Smoking wreaks havoc on so many bodily systems, including hormones. Women who smoke have been found to reach menopause an average of 2 years before non-smokers. There are so many reasons to quit smoking, and preventing premature menopause is on that long list.
  • Diet: A research study done in the UK found that there might be a link between diet and when a woman experiences menopause. Foods like legumes, oily fish, and beans correlated with a later age of onset. Foods like pasta and rice were found to correlate to earlier onset. However, the study had limitations so it doesn’t necessarily prove that diet is related to menopausal age.
  • Weight: Women who are overweight and have a high body mass index (BMI) may also be more likely to have early menopause. Following a healthy and balanced diet and exercising regularly to lose weight may be able to help you prevent early menopause. If you need help with a weight loss plan, talk to your doctor and she can guide you on the healthiest way to do it.
  • Other factors: While there is no proven causation, other possible factors that influence menopausal age include lack of sun exposure and lack of exercise. It’s always a good idea to get outside and get active.

While there is no guarantee you can prevent early menopause, you can manage symptoms by consulting a doctor that specializes in endocrinology, like a certified menopause practitioner. You can work with the doctor to come up with a plan that may include hormone replacement therapy, medication, or lifestyle changes. Hormone therapy is usually recommended for premature and early menopause to protect the bones and heart. 

Make an Appointment

Dr. Karen Clark of Chapel Hill Gynecology knows that every woman is different, so she tailors treatment plans to meet their unique medical needs. Dr. Clark has experience in a wide range of gynecological conditions, with a specialty as a certified menopause practitioner. If you have questions or concerns about early menopause, call (919) 960-2720 to make an appointment or request an appointment online.