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. This can bring on menopause earlier than normal.
Premature menopause is also referred to as “premature ovarian failure.” It occurs when a woman begins menopause before age 40.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, about 1 in 1,000 women ages 15 to 29 and 1 in 100 women between the ages of 30 and 39 experience early menopause.
In some cases, premature menopause is the result of a surgery. Removal of the ovaries or damage through radiation are examples. In other cases, premature menopause may be due to a genetic disorder or pre-existing condition. Risk factors for premature menopause include the following.
Women who have some surgeries are at a higher risk for early menopause. This includes women who have one ovary removed (single oophorectomy) or a removal of the uterus (hysterectomy). These surgeries can cause a reduced amount of estrogen and progesterone in the body. Early menopause can also develop as a side effect among women who have cervical cancer surgery or pelvic surgery. The removal of both ovaries (bilateral oophorectomy) causes immediate menopause.
Chemotherapy and radiation
Chemotherapy and radiation greatly increase the risk of premature menopause. According to the Mayo Clinic, radiotherapy can damage ovarian tissues. This can lead to the early onset of menopause.
Certain defects in chromosomes can lead to premature menopause. Turner syndrome, for example, occurs when a girl is born with an incomplete chromosome. Women with Turner syndrome have ovaries that don’t function properly. This often causes them to enter menopause prematurely.
Premature menopause can be a symptom of an autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system attacks a part of the body because it mistakes it for a harmful substance. Certain autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis can cause the immune system to attack the ovaries and ovarian tissues. This can lead to premature menopause.
A study in Epilepsia suggested that women with epilepsy have a higher risk of developing early menopause.
According to the Mayo Clinic, women who smoke experience menopause one to two years earlier than women who don’t smoke.
Medications that reduce estrogen
Some medications reduce the amount of estrogen in the body. This can result in early menopause. Tamoxifen, for example, is a type of medication that blocks and reduces estrogen. It’s used as a preventive method for women who are at a high risk of developing breast cancer.
Thyroid disorders can cause premature menopause due to hormone levels that are either too high or too low.
While thyroid diseases can cause early menopause, some symptoms of hypothyroidism are similar to menopause symptoms. These include:
- lack of menstruation
- mood swings
- hot flashes
Treating the thyroid condition can alleviate symptoms. It can also prevent the onset of early menopause.
Symptoms and side effects
Women experiencing early menopause will have the same symptoms as women with later menopause. These symptoms include:
- irregular or missed periods
- periods that are lighter or heavier than usual
- hot flashes
- vaginal dryness
- emotional changes, including mood swings
- loss of bladder control
- loss or decrease of libido
- dry skin, eyes, or mouth
Women who have premature menopause will be at higher risk for osteoporosis due to the early decline of estrogen. The decline of estrogen can also increase risk factors for ovarian and colon cancers, cataracts, and gum disease.
Some cases of early menopause are unavoidable. Other times there are steps you can take to prevent or delay it. Prevention tips include:
- Stop smoking immediately.
- Exercise regularly, which can keep you healthy and prevent obesity.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Use natural skin care products that are free of hormones.
- Eat natural, healthy foods as much as possible (especially those rich in phytoestrogen), and avoid processed foods.
Coping with early menopause
Some women experience grief during menopause. If this is you, know that you’re not alone. Online communities such as EarlyMenopause.com exist to offer support, resources, and information for thousands of women dealing with early menopause.
You can also choose to seek therapy or mental health counseling if you experience depression brought on by early menopause.