Surgical menopause is the removal of the ovaries, which puts you immediately into menopause. We’ll take you through the basics of what you need to know.
Surgery is always daunting, but when that surgery can cause a big change in your life — like putting you into menopause — you might feel extra worried and confused.
Whether you’re facing surgical menopause yourself or know someone who is — or you’re just curious — we’re here to help.
Let’s talk about what surgical menopause is and what you can do to ease some of the symptoms you might have after surgery.
In this article: 📝
- What happens when you have surgical menopause?
- Is surgical menopause worse than ‘natural’?
- How long does surgical menopause usually last?
- Does surgical menopause ever end?
What happens when you have surgical menopause?
Surgical menopause is the removal of both your ovaries before the onset of menopause.
It happens through a procedure called a bilateral oophorectomy.
There’s also a surgery called a unilateral oophorectomy when only one ovary is removed.
But a unilateral oophorectomy will not necessarily put you into menopause since you may still have one ovary left.
Your ovaries are two glands in your pelvis that produce eggs as well as the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
Menopause means the end of your periods because your ovaries stop producing these hormones and sending out eggs to the fallopian tubes.
And it happens to everyone who ovulates — commonly in their late 40s or early 50s.
Unless they are taken out, your ovaries remain intact inside your body after menopause, though they do shrink a little.
Removing your ovaries through surgery puts you immediately into menopause.
That’s why we call it “surgical menopause.”
Without your ovaries, you can no longer produce eggs or estrogen and progesterone.
There are many reasons why your doctor might recommend removing your ovaries.
- Ovarian cancer or a family history of ovarian or breast cancer
- Endometriosis or other pelvic pain
- Torsion of the ovary (a painful condition where the ovary twists around a blood supply)
- An infection of the ovary or the area around it, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or a tubo-ovarian abscess (TOA)
An oophorectomy is different from a hysterectomy, though you can have a hysterectomy and an oophorectomy at the same time.
A hysterectomy is the removal of your uterus.
You can have a hysterectomy without going into menopause, as long as your ovaries are still intact and functioning.
Is surgical menopause worse than ‘natural’?
An oophorectomy is a surgical procedure — so recovering from it can be a big deal.
Depending on how your surgery is done, you might be able to leave the hospital that day, or you might need to stay there for two to four days afterward.
And you’ll also need to refrain from exercising and heavy lifting for several weeks.
As for the hormone-related symptoms you might experience, everybody is different.
But unfortunately, it does seem that surgical menopause symptoms can feel worse than others.
This is because, rather than being a gradual transition, surgical menopause happens very suddenly.
To understand this, let’s look at how the menopause transition works.
Unless it’s surgically induced, menopause is defined as the exact day one year after your last period.
The years before this, when many women start experiencing symptoms like hot flashes, are called perimenopause.
And the years after menopause are called postmenopause.
The hormone rollercoaster of perimenopause is to blame for most of what we call “menopause symptoms.”
These can include:
- Night sweats
- Trouble sleeping
- Elevated heart rate
- Mood shifts
- Vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex
During perimenopause, the hormones driving this ship — estrogen, and progesterone — decline over a period of time.
But in surgical menopause, the removal of the ovaries means the hormones are taken away very suddenly.
This is why the symptoms can feel so much more intense.
Surgical menopause also involves a sharper decrease in testosterone.
Testosterone is known as a male hormone, but both men and women have testosterone in their bodies.
In women, about a quarter of our testosterone is produced by our ovaries.
If you still have your ovaries after menopause, they continue to produce testosterone for about 20 years.
In surgical menopause, though, since the ovaries are removed from your body, you no longer have this source of testosterone.
And this can lead to a bigger decrease in sex drive than you may have experienced otherwise.
If you have a bilateral oophorectomy — that’s having both ovaries removed — before the age of 45, you may also be more vulnerable to the extra risks that come with early menopause.
The main concern with early menopause is that it gives you fewer years to benefit from the protective effects of estrogen — a hormone that plays a big role in bone and heart health.
If you go into menopause, say, at 41 instead of 51, that’s ten fewer years of estrogen in your lifetime.
This can lead to an increase in bone loss and heart disease.
How long does surgical menopause usually last?
Surgical menopause symptoms might come on more suddenly and intensely than others, but they last about the same amount of time.
Once you’re into postmenopause, including after an oophorectomy, many symptoms like hot flashes will probably subside within a few years.
But we all go through this change very differently, and some people continue to have symptoms for many years to come.
Does surgical menopause ever end?
Thankfully, there is some help for surgical menopause symptoms.
One thing you can discuss with your doctor is hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
This can be a great way to lessen menopausal symptoms.
Plus, if your ovaries were removed before age 45, hormone therapy can help lessen the risks associated with early menopause, such as bone loss and heart disease.
If you still have your uterus, your doctor will probably recommend treatment that includes both estrogen and progesterone.
This is because taking estrogen alone can potentially lead to uterine cancer.
If you also had a hysterectomy and your uterus was removed, then there is less need to take progesterone.
In this case, your doctor will probably recommend estrogen therapy only.
Calcium — either through food or supplements — can help with menopause-related bone loss.
As for hot flashes, staying hydrated and keeping your bedroom cool can help a little.
There are some natural remedies for menopause, including herbs, but there’s not too much concrete evidence yet that they work.
If you have any other questions about surgical menopause, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor.
And remember that you can also reach out to the Peanut menopause community for support.
We’re here for you!