12 Signs of Early Menopause
According to the North American Menopause Society, the average age for natural menopause is the early 50s. However, some women experience early or premature menopause. Please continue reading to learn why early menopause occurs and some of the signs and symptoms associated with it.
What is menopause?
Menopause is the period in a woman’s life when she stops having menstrual cycles. It is a normal part of aging and is not a disease. The ovaries slow down and ultimately stop producing estrogen at this phase of a woman’s life.
A woman is said to be post-menopause if she has not had a menstrual cycle for at least 12 months.
Many women experience menopausal symptoms such as irregular periods, hot flashes, trouble sleeping, pain during sex, and mood changes during the transition.
What is the usual age for menopause?
Most women in North America reach menopause and stop having menstrual periods in their early 50s. However, the menopausal age can range anywhere from 40 to 58 years. The average age is 51 years. When menopause happens before age 40, it is called premature menopause. When menopause happens before age 45, it is called early menopause.
Can you start menopause at 35?
Yes, you can start menopause at 35, although it is rare. If it happens, it is called premature menopause.
What is the earliest age for menopause?
Menopause can happen in the 20s, 30s, and 40s. However, it rarely occurs before age 30. Only about 0.1% of women experience menopause in their 20s. Premature menopause (before age 40) happens in about 1% of women. Early menopause (before age 45) happens in approximately 5% of women.
What triggers early or premature menopause?
In up to 50% of women, the underlying cause for having menopause early remains unknown. However, there are some known risk factors, such as cancer treatment. In some women, having an autoimmune disease is associated with an increased risk of early menopause. Genetic factors also play a role, meaning if your mother stopped having her menstrual period early, you might be at an increased risk of early menopause as well.
Some of the risk factors and causes of early and premature menopause are listed below:
- Surgery to remove your uterus (hysterectomy) or both ovaries (bilateral oophorectomy)
- Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy
- Family history of natural menopause at an early age
- Menarche (starting menstrual cycles) before age 11
- Smoking tobacco
- Autoimmune diseases such as thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, or Crohn’s disease
- Medical conditions such as myalgic encephalomyelitis and chronic fatigue syndrome
- Infections such as mumps
- HIV or AIDS
- Chromosomal abnormalities such as Turner's syndrome or Fragile X syndrome
What are the most common symptoms of early and premature menopause?
Common symptoms of early menopause and premature menopause are the same as natural menopause. These include:
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Urinary frequency, urinary incontinence (stress incontinence), and frequent urinary tract infections
- Vaginal dryness, pain during sexual intercourse, and changes in sex drive
- Dry skin, dry eyes, dry mouth
- Breast tenderness
- Mood swings, irritability, depression, anxiety
- Joint and muscle pain
- Weight gain or loss
- Hair loss
- Racing heart
How do doctors diagnose early menopause and premature menopause?
If you have symptoms and signs of early menopause (before age 45) or premature menopause (before age 40), your healthcare provider will make a diagnosis based on:
- Your menstrual history
- A family history of menopause at an earlier age
- A physical examination
- Blood tests to check levels of reproductive hormones, such as follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
- Other health conditions that may be contributing to your symptoms
Note: Early or premature menopause is not the same as premature ovarian failure, also called primary ovarian insufficiency (POI). Women with primary ovarian insufficiency may have their periods stop suddenly, but they could still have ovarian function, menstrual cycles, and the ability to become pregnant. In contrast, post-menopausal women do not ovulate, do not have menstrual periods, and cannot become pregnant.
Why is diagnosing early menopause important?
Premature or early menopause can increase your risk of serious health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis (low bone density), glaucoma, sexual dysfunction, mood disorders, and neurological diseases such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
It’s important to talk to your healthcare provider if you are under 45 and have stopped having menstrual periods. They can make a proper diagnosis and offer treatments for early menopause or premature menopause.
What are the treatment options for early or premature menopause?
Women’s health experts recommend hormone therapy for early or premature menopause unless it is contraindicated (for example, if you’ve had breast cancer).
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) helps to boost hormone levels in the body. This alleviates severe symptoms and lowers the long-term health risks of early or premature menopause. You may need to continue hormone therapy until age 51 when natural menopause usually occurs.
If you have had your final period and reached menopause at an early age and are struggling with vasomotor symptoms or other symptoms, support groups can offer insights and tips on how to deal with the situation.
Can you prevent premature or early menopause?
Most of the causes of early and premature menopause cannot be changed. Some of these include cancer treatment, surgeries, or genetic factors. However, you can stay healthy overall by stopping smoking, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly.