For most women, the menopause starts between the ages of 45, and 55. But what if your periods stop before then? What do you need to know?
Early menopause can happen naturally if a woman’s ovaries stop making normal levels of certain hormones, in particular oestrogen. This is sometimes called premature ovarian failure, or primary ovarian insufficiency.
The cause of premature ovarian failure is often unknown, but in some women it may be caused by:
- chromosome abnormalities – such as in women with Turner syndrome
- an autoimmune disease – where the immune system starts attacking body tissues
- certain infections, such as tuberculosis, malaria and mumps – but this is very rare
Premature ovarian failure can sometimes run in families. This might be the case if any of your relatives went through the menopause at a very young age (20s or early 30s).
Radiotherapy and chemotherapy can cause premature ovarian failure. This may be permanent or temporary. Your risk of having an early menopause will depend on:
- your age – girls who haven’t yet reached puberty can tolerate stronger treatment than older women
- the type of treatment you’re given – different types of chemotherapy may affect the ovaries differently
- where on your body any radiotherapy is focused – your risk of developing premature menopause is higher if you have radiotherapy treatment around your brain or pelvis
Surgically removing both ovaries will also bring on premature or early menopause. For example, the ovaries may need to be removed during a hysterectomy (an operation to remove the womb).
The main symptom of early menopause is periods becoming infrequent or stopping altogether without any other reason (such as pregnancy).
Some women may also get other typical menopausal symptoms, including:
- hot flushes
- night sweats
- vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex
- difficulty sleeping
- low mood or anxiety
- reduced sex drive (libido)
- problems with memory and concentration
Women who go through early menopause also have an increased risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease because of their lowered oestrogen hormone levels.
Treatments for early menopause.
The main treatment for early menopause is either the combined contraceptive pill or HRT to make up for your missing hormones.
Your GP will probably recommend that you take this treatment long term, beyond the “normal” age of natural menopause (around 52 on average), to give you lasting protection.
If you have had certain types of cancer, such as certain types of breast cancer, you may not be able to have hormonal treatment.
Your GP will talk to you about other treatment options and lifestyle changes you can make to help protect your health. You can track any medications your GP recommends for the treatment of early menopause (and all your other medications) with Medsmart®.
If you’re still getting symptoms, your GP can refer you to a specialist menopause centre.
If you would like to find out more, here are some links you may find useful
The Daisy Network – a support group for women with premature ovarian failure
healthtalk.org – provides information about early menopause, including women talking about their own experiences
Fertility friends – a support network for people with fertility problems
Track your medicine sin the Medsmart App
Royal Osteoporosis Society – provide information, support and networks for people living with osteoporosis