While women generally enter menopause between the ages of 41 and 55, there are many factors that can interrupt the normal cycle of a woman’s reproductive system and bring about menopause earlier than normal. Premature menopause, also referred to as “premature ovarian failure,” occurs when a woman begins menopause before age 40. The condition affects about one percent of all women.
In some cases, premature menopause is caused from the result of a surgery, including the removal of or damage to the ovaries, such as through radiation. In other cases, premature menopause may be attributed to a genetic disorder, an autoimmune disease, or an unknown reason. Risk factors for premature menopause include:
Women who have undergone single oophorectomy (removal of one ovary) or a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) have a reduced amount of estrogen and progesterone in their bodies. Early menopause can develop as a side effect among women who have undergone cervical cancer surgery or pelvic surgery. Bilateral oophorectomy (removal of both ovaries) causes immediate menopause.
Chemotherapy and Radiation
Chemotherapy and radiation greatly increases the risk of premature menopause. Radiotherapy can damage ovarian tissues, ultimately leading to early onset of menopause.
Certain defects in chromosomes can lead to premature menopause. One such condition, Turner syndrome, occurs when a girl is born with an incomplete chromosome. Women with Turner syndrome have ovaries that don’t function properly, often causing them to enter menopause prematurely.
Premature menopause can be a symptom of an autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease occurs when a body’s immune system erroneously attacks a part of the body, mistaking it for a harmful substance. Particular autoimmune diseases, including thyroid disease and rheumatoid arthritis, can cause the immune system to attack the ovaries and ovarian tissues, ultimately leading to premature menopause.
Early menopause can occur if assisted reproduction technology fail to stimulate the ovaries.
A number of studies have found that women with epilepsy are more likely to experience premature ovarian failure.One study found that in a population of epileptic women, about five percent had premature menopause, as opposed to one percent of the general population.
A woman with a family history of early menopause has an increased risk for entering early menopause.
Many studies have linked smoking with premature menopause. A group at the Massachusetts General Hospital found that a chemical in cigarette smoke causes egg cells in women to die prematurely.