As women approach menopause, menstruation becomes less regular as the production of hormones such as progesterone and estrogen slows down. Most women begin to experience signs of the menopause during the late 40s and early 50s.
Some woman will begin this process much earlier, sometimes even before the age of 40 and this is termed as being in early menopause. Sometimes early menopause may be due to medical treatments but other times it can be caused by unknown factors.
If you do begin to experience some of the signs of early menopause, then it’s important to talk to your gynecologist or doctor. This is because this could affect your general health.
Understanding Possible Causes of an Early Menopause
It Could Be Due to Your Genetics
If close relatives underwent an early menopause, you’re more likely to experience this condition yourself. It’s worth asking to see if your mom or grandma went through an early change.
Autoimmune Disease Increases Your Risk
Diseases that cause your immune system to attack the body can damage the ovaries. This, in turn, can affect their ability to produce the hormones necessary to keep ovulating which may result in an early menopause.
An operation to remove your uterus or ovaries can induce what’s known as a surgical menopause. When the ovaries are removed it results in hormone levels falling. Removing the uterus may be less immediate but it is still possible that this could cause an early menopause.
Having Treatment for Cancer
Chemotherapy or radiation therapy to treat cancers located in the pelvic region can damage the ovaries. However not every woman who undergoes treatment for pelvic cancers will experience this problem.
Understanding the Symptoms of an Early Menopause
As hormone levels fall it can cause a number of symptoms. These include difficulty in sleeping, hot flashes, vaginal dryness and irregular periods. Once you have ceased to have a period for 12 consecutive months, you are considered to have had an early menopause. In spite of this is important to remember that many women will miss a period from time to time and this may not be due to pregnancy or the menopause.
Getting Tested to See If You Are Menopausal
Your gynecologist or physician can carry out various tests that will help determine if you are going through the menopause although these tests are not definitive. One particular test is used to determine the presence of follicle-stimulating hormones as these hormones control the production of eggs in the menstrual cycle. Even so, these hormone levels may register as being low depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle. A low level may not necessarily indicate you are going through the menopause.
Possible Problems Caused by an Early Menopause
The symptoms of the menopause have a reputation for being unpleasant, particularly hot flashes although these are temporary. However, there may be other long-term side-effects that could impact your health. Although the hormones produced by the ovaries are important for sexual function, they also play a part in overall health. An early menopause may result in a woman being unable to get pregnant which could have psychological implications.
Other possible side-effects on general health include an increased risk of osteoporosis because a lack of estrogen increases the risk of brittle bones. Reduced estrogen levels are also associated with heart disease.
This problem may be worse if you already have existing conditions such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels, or diabetes. As estrogen levels fall the vaginal tissues can become thinner. This increases the risk of urinary incontinence, particularly during exercise or when coughing or laughing.
The menopause can also slow down the metabolism, resulting in weight gain. It’s been suggested in some studies that an early menopause can affect a woman’s ability to think clearly. It’s also been associated with an increased risk of dementia.
Treating the Symptoms
Often these unpleasant symptoms created by an early menopause can be treated with hormone replacement therapy. Your gynecologist or physician may recommend taking this medication until you reach the normal age for the menopause.
This type of therapy involves taking hormones that are similar to the hormones naturally produced by the body and which will help to reduce symptoms. Self-help measures include exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet and dressing in layers.
This means if you do have a hot flash it’s easier to call down more quickly. Some women also find it helpful to avoid spicy foods.