What is early menopause?
Menopause is the phase of a woman’s life that marks the end of menstrual periods. To be in menopause, you must be period-free for 12-consecutive months (unrelated to other conditions or medications). The average age of menopause is 51.
Early menopause typically occurs between ages 40-45. Women who have menopause earlier than age 40 enter menopause prematurely. Just like women who enter menopause after age 45, women between ages 40-45 will experience perimenopause and have similar symptoms. About 5% percent of women go through early menopause.
The cause of early menopause is not well known but it is likely related to genetics, past medical treatments, prior illness and infections, smoking, and other health conditions including autoimmune diseases.
What are the complications of early menopause?
Women are beginning to have children later in their childbearing years. The average age of first-time mothers is steadily increasing in countries like the U.S. and the U.K. Fertility complications of early menopause arise when women try to conceive later in life. Women who enter menopause in their early 40s are likely to begin perimenopause in their 30s, which can decrease the number of follicles, making getting pregnant more challenging. Early menopause can be challenging for women who wish to get pregnant later in their childbearing years.
Other complications stem from women missing valuable years of having higher estrogen levels. Low estrogen levels increase your risk for certain health conditions such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, earlier cognitive decline, and an overall lower life expectancy. If you have early menopause, you may also feel sad or depressed as this major life change can impact family plans and the way you feel about your body.
How do I know I am going through early menopause?
If you are experiencing symptoms of perimenopause such as irregular periods before age 45, make an appointment with your doctor. Be prepared for your doctor to take the following assessments:
- A complete family and medical history
- Review of your current symptoms, including last menstrual period. You can use the Caria app to track your symptoms daily.
- Physical exam
- Blood studies including thyroid function tests, autoantibody tests (to assess for autoimmune diseases), a follicle-stimulating hormone test (taken twice in a 2 month period), and a bone mineral density study.
How can I manage early menopause?
If you are diagnosed with early menopause, your doctor will likely talk to you about using hormone replacement therapy to increase your estrogen levels. In most healthy women, HRT can be an effective tool for reducing menopause symptoms and decreasing your risk for low-estrogen health conditions like osteoporosis.
Making lifestyle changes can also help reduce your risk for complications of early menopause. For example, maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise can help reduce your risk for osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.