Definition

What is premature menopause?

Menopause is the time in a woman’s life when menstrual periods cease. It is defined medically as the absence of menstrual periods for 12 consecutive months.

Most women begin menopause between the ages of 45 and 55. However, because of genetics, illness, or medical procedures, some women go through menopause before the age of 40. Menopause that occurs before this age, whether natural or induced, is known as premature menopause.

How common is premature menopause?

Premature menopause is not common. Premature ovarian failure affects about 1 out of every 1000 women from ages 15 to 29 and about 1 out of every 100 women aged 30 to 39. It can be managed by reducing the risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of premature menopause?

Symptoms of premature menopause are often the same as those experienced by women undergoing natural menopause and may include:

  • Mood swings
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Changes in cognition and memory
  • Hot flashes
  • Diminished desire for sex
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Weight gain
  • Night sweats
  • Vaginal pain during intercourse

Irregular periods usually precede menopause, and can begin years before periods actually cease.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you are under the age of 40 and experience any of the following conditions, you should see your doctor to determine whether you are undergoing premature menopause:

  • You have undergone chemotherapy or radiation
  • You or a family member has an autoimmune disorder such as hypothyroidism, Graves’ disease, or lupus
  • You have unsuccessfully tried to become pregnant for more than a year
  • Your mother or sister experienced premature menopause

If you or your loved one has any signs or symptoms listed above or you have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes premature menopause?

There are several known causes of early menopause, although sometimes the cause can’t be determined.

Genetics

If there’s no obvious medical reason for early menopause, the cause is likely genetic. Your age at menopause onset is likely inherited.

Knowing when your mother started menopause can provide clues about when you’ll start your own. If your mother started menopause early, you’re more likely than average to do the same. However, genes tell only half the story.

Lifestyle factors

Some lifestyle factors may have an impact on when you begin menopause. Smoking has antiestrogen effects that can contribute to early menopause. An analysis in 2012 of several studies showed that long-term or regular smokers are likely to experience menopause sooner. According to the Mayo Clinic, women who smoke may start menopause one to two years earlier than women who don’t smoke.

Body mass index (BMI) can also factor into early menopause. Estrogen is stored in fat tissue. Women who are very thin have fewer estrogen stores, which can be depleted sooner.

Some research also suggests that a vegetarian diet, lack of exercise, and lack of sun exposure throughout your life can all cause early onset of menopause.

Chromosome defects

Some chromosomal defects can lead to early menopause. For example, Turner syndrome (also called monosomy X and gonadal dysgenesis) involves being born with an incomplete chromosome. Women with Turner syndrome have ovaries that don’t function properly. This often causes them to enter menopause prematurely.

Other chromosomal defects can cause early menopause, too. This includes pure gonadal dysgenesis, a variation on Turner syndrome. In this condition, the ovaries don’t function. Instead, periods and secondary sex characteristics must be brought about by hormone replacement therapy (HRT), usually during adolescence.

Trisomy 13 and 18 are conditions in which the 13th or 18th pair of chromosomes has an extra chromosome. These conditions can also lead to early menopause. They usually cause severe developmental issues in addition to infertility.

Autoimmune diseases

Premature menopause can be a symptom of an autoimmune disease such as thyroid disease and rheumatoid arthritis. In autoimmune diseases, the immune system mistakes a part of the body for an invader and attacks it. Inflammation caused by some of these diseases can affect the ovaries. Menopause begins when the ovaries stop working.

Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a seizure disorder that stems from the brain. Women with epilepsy are more likely to experience premature ovarian failure, which leads to menopause. An older study from 2001 found that in a group of women with epilepsy, about 14 percent of those studied had premature menopause, as opposed to 1 percent of the general population.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for premature menopause?

There are many risk factors for premature menopause, such as:

  • Genetic (inherited) factors. The risk of premature ovarian failure risk increases in women who have relatives with the condition.
  • Illnesses like autoimmune diseases, thyroid disease, viral infection, hormonal disorders, and eating disorders

Women at risk for surgical or treatment-induced menopause are those who are undergoing treatment for cancer or other conditions that require surgical removal of the female organs.

Please consult with your doctor for further information.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is premature menopause diagnosed?

To diagnose premature menopause, your doctor will most likely perform a physical exam and draw blood to rule out other conditions, such as pregnancy and thyroid disease. He or she may also order a test to measure your estradiol levels. Low levels of estradiol, a form of estrogen, can indicate that your ovaries are starting to fail. When estradiol levels are below 30, it may signal that you are in menopause.

However, the most important test used to diagnose premature menopause is a blood test that measures follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). FSH causes your ovaries to produce estrogen. When your ovaries slow down their production of estrogen, your levels of FSH increase. When your FSH levels rise above 40 mIU/mL, it usually indicates that you are in menopause.

How is premature menopause treated?

Early menopause generally doesn’t require treatment. Once menopause has set in, it is unlikely to be reversed. However, there are treatment options available to help manage the symptoms of menopause or conditions related to it. They can help you deal with changes in your body or lifestyle more easily.

Types of treatments for symptom relief include:

  • Hormone therapy: hormone therapy (HT, or estrogen therapy, ET) is available in different forms including pills, patches, transdermal sprays, or gels or creams. Localized hormone treatments are also available for intravaginal use. HT/ET is the most effective way to control symptoms like hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Because HT/ET has been associated with certain health risks (heart attack, stroke, and breast cancer), experts recommend using the lowest effective dose of hormone therapy for the shortest period of time necessary for symptom control.
  • Oral contraceptive pills are a form of HT that is sometimes used to help relieve menopausal symptoms.
  • Antidepressant medications: the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and related medications have been shown to be effective in controlling the symptoms of hot flashes in up to 60% of women.
  • Non-hormonal vaginal gels, creams, and lubricants can help prevent the symptoms of vaginal dryness.
  • Assisted reproductive technologies: in selected cases, pregnancy may be achieved using donor eggs in women with premature menopause.

Women dealing with infertility that is brought on by premature menopause may want to discuss their options with their doctor or with a reproductive specialist.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage premature menopause?

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: March 7, 2018 | Last Modified: March 7, 2018

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