Menopause is something that all women can expect to go through in their middle and later years. On average, American women begin to notice the onset of menopause at the age of 51.
What happens if you start noticing the symptoms of menopause earlier than that? Perhaps you are in your late 30s or early 40s and already, you’re noticing bodily and psychological changes indicative of menopause.
Early menopause does occur, often accompanied by a wider array of symptoms than average cases of menopause. What causes early menopause and how can you be sure that you are experiencing early menopause?
We will address these questions and more in our guide to early menopause. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know.
What Is Early Menopause?
Early menopause, also called premature menopause or premature ovarian failure indicates a change in hormonal and egg production. During menopause, the ovaries produce less of the hormone estrogen and stop releasing eggs on a regular basis. The primary difference between menopause and early menopause is the age at which menopause sets in.
It is important to recognize the reproductive implications of early menopause. We often expect women to remain fertile well into their 30s and 40s. However, early menopause can make reproduction more difficult or lead to more potential pregnancy complications.
Note that in very rare cases, women in their twenties and girls in their teens may develop early menopause. Even if you are younger than 30 and begin experiencing symptoms resembling menopausal symptoms, it is important to talk to your doctor.
What Are the Signs of Early Menopause?
For the most part, the signs of early menopause mirror the signs of menopause. They include things like:
- Delayed or missed menstrual cycles
- Menstruation that is unusually heavy or light
- Hot flashes (feelings of sudden bouts of uncomfortable warmth that tend to overtake the upper body)
- Vaginal dryness
- Decreased flexibility of vagina and thinness of vaginal lining
- Incontinence (increased irritability of the bladder accompanied by loss of control over the bladder)
- Emotional changes including mood swings, irritability, mild depression, and mild anxiety
- Dryness of the skin, mouth, and/or eyes
- Trouble falling or staying asleep tied to the link between hormones and insomnia
- A decrease in sexual desire or “sex drive”
Some women may begin to suspect early menopause not at the onset of the above symptoms but because of difficulty conceiving. If you are trying to conceive and struggling, talk to your gynecologist and consult a reproductive specialist.
All of these symptoms relate to the decreased production of the hormone, estrogen. It is important to note that in addition to the above symptoms, low estrogen levels can exacerbate the risk of developing other health issues.
For example, women with low estrogen production are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis. Recognizing the signs of early menopause can help you determine what your body needs to stay healthy. Taking calcium supplements is often recommended for women going through menopause as a way to lower the chances of developing osteoporosis.
What Causes Early Menopause?
More often than not, the cause of early menopause in individual women is undetectable. When the cause of early menopause cannot be discovered, doctors may refer to the condition as “idiopathic premature menopause.”
Let’s take a look at some of the conditions that have, in some cases, been linked to early menopause.
Less than one-third of women who experience early menopause also have an autoimmune condition. These conditions include hypothyroidism, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic lupus erythematosus.
In some cases, women who experience early menopause have mothers, sisters, grandmothers, or aunts who experienced the same thing. When this occurs, it is considered genetic whether the true source is fully understood or not.
Many conditions and diseases that have been linked to early menopause are passed on genetically. This includes galactosemia, caused by the body’s inability to convert galactose from carbohydrates into glucose. It also includes Turner’s syndrome and Fragile X permutation.
As of right now, more studies need to be conducted in order to understand the link between certain viral infections and menopause. However, this is some inconclusive data suggesting a connection. Viral infections that may be tied to early menopause include mumps and cytomegalovirus.
Is Treatment for Early Menopause Different?
Going through early menopause can cause distress, especially for women hoping to conceive. Unfortunately, there is no known way to reverse the effects of menopause regardless of age and overall health. If you are struggling to conceive, work with a fertility specialist and find out what your options are moving forward.
Generally, treatment is designed to treat individual symptoms of menopause, as opposed to the condition, itself. Your doctor may suggest hormone therapy to relieve symptoms such as severe hot flashes and mood imbalances. You may also receive topical ointments to relieve symptoms such as vaginal dryness.
Ultimately, treatment for early menopause is individualized to meet each woman’s needs. In addition to treating the symptoms of menopause, you may also want to talk to your doctor about related conditions and preventative treatments for them.
Understand Your Body and Manage Menopause Symptoms
Menopause often causes discomfort, both physical and mental, that can be managed with medical and therapeutic treatment. Detecting the symptoms of early menopause can help you establish your treatment options from the start and manage your symptoms with ease.
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