What is surgical menopause?
The ovaries are the main source of estrogen production in the female body. When they’re removed, they trigger immediate menopause, despite your age.
While surgery to remove the ovaries can operate as a standalone procedure, it’s sometimes performed in addition to hysterectomy to reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases. Periods stop after a hysterectomy because the structure is no longer there. But having a hysterectomy does not put a women in menopause unless the ovaries are removed, too.
Menopause side effects
Menopause usually takes place in women between the ages of 45 and 55. A women is officially in menopause when her periods have stopped for 12 months. However, some women will begin to experience perimenopausal symptoms years before that time.
Some common symptoms during the perimenopause phase and menopause include:
- irregular periods
- hot flashes
- vaginal dryness
- mood changes
- weight gain
- night sweats
- thinning hair
- dry skin
Risks of surgical menopause
Surgical menopause carries a number of side effects beyond those of menopause, including:
Surgical menopause also causes hormonal imbalances. The ovaries and adrenal glands produce progesterone and estrogen, the female sex hormones. When both ovaries are removed, the adrenal glands can’t produce enough hormones to maintain balance.
For that reason, and depending on your medical history, some doctors may or may not recommend hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after an oophorectomy to reduce the risk of disease. Doctors will avoid giving estrogen to women who have a history of breast or ovarian cancer.
Benefits of surgical menopause
For some women, removing the ovaries and experiencing surgical menopause can be life-saving.
Some cancers thrive on estrogen, which can cause women to develop cancer at an earlier age. Women who have a history of ovarian or breast cancer in their families have a greater risk of developing these diseases because their genes may be unable to suppress tumor growth. In this case, oophorectomy can be used as a preventative measure to reduce the risk of developing cancer.
Surgical menopause can also help to reduce pain from endometriosis. This condition causes uterine tissues to growth outside the uterus. This irregular tissue can affect the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or lymph nodes and cause significant pelvic pain.
Removing the ovaries can stop or slow estrogen production and reduce pain symptoms. Estrogen replacement therapy is usually not an option for women with this history.
Why perform an oophorectomy?
An oophorectomy causes surgical menopause. In most cases, removing the ovaries is a preventative measure against disease. Sometimes it’s performed alongside a hysterectomy, which removes the uterus.
Some women are predisposed to cancer from family history. To reduce the risk of developing cancers affecting their reproductive health, doctors may suggest removing one or both ovaries. In some cases, they may also need their uterus removed.
In other cases, women may elect to have their ovaries removed to reduce symptoms from endometriosis and chronic pelvic pain. While there are some success stories in oophorectomy pain management, this procedure may not always be effective.
Other reasons women may want to remove both ovaries and induce surgical menopause are:
- ovary torsion, or twisted ovaries that affect blood flow
- recurrent ovarian cysts
- benign ovarian tumors
Managing surgical menopause
To reduce negative side effects of surgical menopause, doctors may recommend hormone replacement therapy. HRT counteracts the hormones you’ve lost after surgery.
HRT also lowers the risk of developing heart disease and prevents bone density loss and osteoporosis. This is especially important for younger women who have removed their ovaries before natural menopause.
Women younger than 45 who have their ovaries removed and who are not taking HRT are at an increased risk of developing cancer and heart and neurological diseases. However, HRT has also been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer for women with a strong family history of cancer.
You can also manage your surgical menopausal symptoms through lifestyle changes that help to reduce stress and alleviate pain.
To reduce discomfort from hot flashes:
- carry a portable fan
- drink water
- avoid excessively spicy foods
- limit alcohol intake
- keep your bedroom cool at night
- keep a fan at the bedside
To relieve stress:
- maintain a healthy sleep cycle
- join a support group for pre- and postmenopausal women
Women who undergo surgical menopause from an oophorectomy reduce their risk of developing reproductive cancers. However, they are at an increased risk of developing other adverse health issues. This is especially significant for women who have their ovaries removed before their natural menopause period.
Surgical menopause can spur a number of uncomfortable side effects. Be sure to discuss all treatment options with your doctor before deciding on an oophorectomy.