Most women are aware of the general milestones in their lives when it comes to their reproductive or fertile period. We know about puberty signaling the beginning of the fertile years, the decades of dealing with a menstrual cycle, and the onset of menopause, which signals the end of the reproductive years.
We associate menopause with our grandmothers and later our mothers. We try to cast it out of our minds when we are younger because it is something that happens to “old women.” However, menopause can start earlier than some might think, even when it happens within the average timeline.
What is Considered Early Menopause?
As women age, their ovaries start to decline in function. They will then start producing lower levels of estrogens and other reproductive hormones. As a result, ovulation and menstruation stop.
Menopause is generally confirmed when a woman has not experienced menstruation in 12 consecutive months (when there is no other apparent cause). The average age for a woman to experience the onset of menopause is 51 and it usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55.
According to the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), if a woman experiences the onset of menopause before the age of 40, it is referred to as premature or early menopause. Early menopause and premature menopause, affect only 1% of women under 40. But even if you fall into that minority, with the help of an OB/GYN that specializes in caring for menopausal women of all ages, you can form a treatment plan, adjust and keep living life to the fullest.
What are the Symptoms of Early Menopause?
Unsurprisingly, the symptoms of early menopause are nearly identical to the symptoms of normal menopause. The symptoms just occur at a younger age.
- Irregular periods
- Periods that are longer or shorter than what is normal for you
- Spotting between periods
- Heavy bleeding
- Extended time between periods
- Mood swings
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Trouble sleeping
- Loss of bladder control
- Changes in libido or sexual desire
- Vaginal dryness
If you are experiencing these symptoms before 40, you should be immediately evaluated as it can be a sign of another problem. Also, the sooner you are diagnosed the sooner you can get treatment for menopausal symptoms. But, it needs to be said that even if you have menopause symptoms after 40, your doctor should be consulted so you can talk about options.
What Causes Early Menopause?
There are a number of causes for early menopause. These reasons have a common thread at the core: your ovaries stop making hormones and your periods stop. The cause of the hormonal change is really the thing in question.
Sometimes it is induced due to a hysterectomy or other medical treatment such as radiation or chemotherapy.
If the early menopause is not induced, then it is referred to as “natural.” Early menopause that is natural can be caused by the following:
- Heredity or family history
- Autoimmune diseases
- Missing chromosomes/genetic disorders
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
How Can Early Menopause Symptoms Be Treated?
While early menopause differs from “normal” menopause in the age of onset and what causes it, treatment is similar in both cases. Hormone replacement therapy is the best way to reduce the severity of symptoms and help restore your quality of life.
If you suspect you are experiencing early menopause, it is important to consult a doctor quickly. And after it is confirmed, make sure you are being treated by a qualified physician with experience in hormone replacement therapy and managing menopause.
For treating early menopause, Dr. Karen Clark of Chapel Hill Gynecology specializes in bioidentical hormone therapy. To learn more about whether this treatment method may be for you, call (919) 960-2720 to schedule an appointment.