Menopause is a condition that all women experience as they age. Technically, menopause has occurred when it has been 12 months since a woman’s last menstrual period. Women may experience a number of issues in the time leading up to menopause (in what is called perimenopause) and after menopause including hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, decreased sex drive and others.
The typical age of onset of menopause for women in the U.S. is 51. Women who go into menopause before the age of 40 experience early or premature menopause.
Early or Premature Menopause?
The cause of early menopause cannot always be pinpointed. However, there are a number of factors that play a role, including:
- Surgery to remove the ovaries. If the ovaries are surgically removed, for example, to address gynecologic cancer, menopause begins.
- Chromosomal defects. Conditions like Turner syndrome, which has a negative impact on how the ovaries function, can lead to early menopause.
- Chemotherapy or radiation treatment. These treatments can cause ovarian failure, which brings on early menopause.
- Autoimmune diseases. Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and thyroid disease can cause inflammation that affects the functioning of the ovaries and leads to premature menopause.
- Epilepsy. Women with epilepsy are more likely to experience premature ovarian failure, which leads to menopause.
- Body mass index. Estrogen is stored in fat tissue. Women who are very thin have fewer estrogen stores and may experience early menopause.
- Smoking. Smoking has a negative impact on estrogen levels, which can cause menopause to occur one or two years earlier than expected.
- Genetics. If early menopause has not been produced by a medical condition, the cause is probably genetic. If your mother experienced premature menopause, you are more likely to experience it as well.
Premature Menopause Symptoms
Signs of menopause at 40 or younger may include:
- Missed or irregular periods
- Hot flashes (an uncomfortable feeling of excessive warmth that spreads through body)
- Periods that are lighter or heavier than usual
- Loss of bladder control (also called incontinence)
- Vaginal dryness
- Dry skin, mouth or eyes
- Emotional changes such as mood swings, irritability, and mild depression
- Decreased sex drive
Premature Menopause Treatment
While premature menopause cannot generally be reversed, its symptoms can be treated in the same way that natural menopause symptoms are treated. This may include hormone therapy, vaginal estrogen, low-dose antidepressants, medication to relieve hot flashes and treatment to prevent osteoporosis.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can also help you manage early menopause symptoms. This includes getting adequate sleep, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, eating a balanced diet and practicing relaxation techniques.