If you think you may be experiencing premature menopause, it’s a good idea to get to your doctor for a check-up. We’ll take you through the details.
Premature menopause affects about 1% of women under the age of 40.
And because it’s linked to a bunch of other physical and mental health conditions, it’s important that we take it seriously.
So for starters, if you’re experiencing uncomfortable symptoms or simply want to get some answers about where you’re at, speak to your healthcare provider.
There is help available and you don’t have to simply struggle through alone.
With that in mind, here’s the 411 on premature menopause, why this transition may come early, and what you can do if it does.
In this article: 📝
- What is menopause?
- What is the earliest age for premature menopause?
- What causes premature menopause?
- What are the signs of premature menopause?
- Is premature menopause serious?
What is menopause?
Menopause is defined as 12 months after you have your last period.
But this doesn’t happen in an instant.
The transition usually starts gradually, in a phase called perimenopause.
The early stages of this shift often start in your early 40s, but can begin as early as your 30s.
The later stages tend to happen towards the end of your 40s or in your early 50s, with the average age to reach menopause being 52 in the United States.
(Note that we’re all different, and the spectrum on this is wide, so “normal” and “average” are most certainly not everyone’s story.)
Menopause happens when your ovaries stop producing the hormones that cause you to ovulate.
During perimenopause, your estrogen production will likely go up and down until it finally stops when you hit menopause.
Once your periods stop, your body also stops making progesterone, an important sex hormone responsible for preparing our bodies for pregnancy.
And while it can be fun to chuck in the menstrual wear, this phase understandably comes with some very real challenges.
From symptoms like hot flashes and vaginal dryness, to dealing with the complexities of a major life transition, menopause is a big deal.
(Psst. If you need support through this time, join us on Peanut. We’re having the conversation.)
So what happens if you start to experience the menopause transition earlier in your life?
What is the earliest age for premature menopause?
Premature menopause means you stop having periods before you’re 40.
Early menopause is pretty much the same thing, but it happens before 45 rather than 40.
According to the North American Menopause Society, about 5% of women naturally go through early menopause.
Once you hit menopause, you can no longer get pregnant.
If you’re TTC, this can be hard.
(Again, we’re here for you. Join our community so we can navigate this together.)
If you’re at risk for premature menopause, one option is to freeze your eggs.
This may give you the option to use your eggs for in vitro fertilization (IVF) so that you can get pregnant in the future.
What causes premature menopause?
In some cases, early or premature menopause can run in families.
And in others, it just happens and we don’t know the exact cause.
There are some links between smoking cigarettes and premature menopause.
(Stopping can lower your risk. If you’d like to look into quitting, here are some helpful resources from the CDC.&text=Information%20on%20cessation%20behaviors%20of%20U.S.%20adults%20and%20youth.).)
Menopause can also happen early because of some medical treatments.
Surgical menopause and induced menopause are the terms used to describe menopause that happens as a result of a surgical procedure or medical treatment.
Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy are both linked to premature menopause.
And if you need to have your ovaries removed because of a health concern — a procedure called an oophorectomy — you will go through menopause.
If this is the case, you won’t go through a gradual perimenopause transition but rather experience menopause immediately on the day of your surgery.
This may mean that you’ll have more severe symptoms.
If you have a hysterectomy (where your uterus is removed) but your ovaries stay put, you likely won’t go through menopause right away.
That’s because your ovaries will still make the hormones responsible for ovulation.
There is a chance you may hit menopause a year or two earlier than you would have otherwise, though.
Some health conditions are also linked to premature menopause. If you have an autoimmune condition like hypothyroidism, Crohn’s disease, or rheumatoid arthritis, there’s a chance you could experience premature menopause.
Chromosomal differences like Turner Syndrome, where some or all of one of your X chromosomes is missing, can cause complications when it comes to the function of your ovaries.
Recent studies have also shown that certain genes may also be linked to premature menopause.
This research is still in the beginning phases but shows some promise in terms of giving us more info about the genetic side of premature menopause.
The more we know, and the sooner we know it, the easier it will be to make informed decisions about family planning and our health.
So, all-in-all, there are many reasons why premature menopause happens.
And sometimes we just don’t know why it does.
What are the signs of premature menopause?
The signs of premature menopause tend to be the same as they would be for perimenopause if it were to happen later:
- Changes in your cycle. This may mean that your cycle is longer or shorter, heavier or lighter, and less regular than normal
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Mood swings and irritability
- Trouble concentrating
- Sleep trouble
- Breast tenderness
- Increased urination or incontinence
- Hair loss
- Muscle aches and pains
If you think you may be going through premature menopause, talk to your doctor.
They will likely go through your medical and family history and run tests to rule out other reasons why you may be experiencing specific symptoms.
If they suspect you are going through premature menopause, they may do blood tests to check your levels of estrogen and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).
They may also test you for genetic and autoimmune conditions that could be at the heart of it.
Is premature menopause serious?
The reality is that premature menopause comes with some very real health risks. These include:
- Osteoporosis (a disease that weakens your bones)
- Heart disease
- Mood disorders
- Neurological diseases like dementia
While there’s nothing that will kick ovulation back into gear once you’ve reached menopause, there are certainly treatments available.
These can make you more comfortable and stave off the risk of developing other health conditions.
It’s not ideal for everyone, but hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a common option that has proven effective for many people.
There is no one-size-fits-all story when it comes to menopause.
And it can happen early for a number of reasons.
Going through premature menopause can also be incredibly tough emotionally, whether you’re TTC or not.
Seek support from counselors, friends and your Peanut community.
It’s time we normalized the conversation — and that’s for all different kinds of “normal.”
We’ve got you.