The majority of women begin menopause after 51 years of age but about one percent of women may experience menopause much younger. I was one of those women. Menopause symptoms began when I was around 45, ending finally when I turned 53. I can say that those years were not fun dealing with uterine fibroids, irregular periods, pain, and clotting. I chose not to have surgery because I had no insurance. With time my symptoms lessened, my fibroids dried up, and finally my periods ended as well. It was a beautiful time in my life when I was finally set free from all those female problems. But what causes early menopause?
Premature Ovarian Failure or POV: This simply means that your ovarian function which produces eggs, and important hormones, ends early. This reduced ovarian function can either be caused by natural factors or by other factors that we will discuss.
What Are Early Menopause Symptoms? Early menopause affects women between the ages of 20 and 46 years. Symptoms include: irregular menstrual cycles; light to heavy flow; breast changes; fibroid tumors; endometriosis; bladder problems; vaginal dryness; dry skin; night sweats; hot flashes; headaches; sleep problems; muscle and joint pain; weight gain in the stomach; water retention; anxiety; depression; mental fog; forgetfulness; and emotional upheavals.
Menopause symptoms are the same, no matter what age they begin. It is the severity that widely differs between women. The difference is when early menopause is surgically induced; symptoms develop more rapidly and severely. This occurs very soon after the operation. 90 percent of women who undergo surgical operations such as hysterectomies, complain of sudden severe symptoms that can last more than 8 years. These symptoms can affect your ability to work and your relationship with your partner. When I was going through early menopause with severe bleeding and pain, I had trouble holding down a full day of work. I struggled through many days and it did affect my performance. Not all women experience severe symptoms but many do. You won’t know until you personally go through it.
Tests to Determine Early Menopause: Doctors who specialize in fertility and hormonal disorders are called Reproductive Endocrinologists. They will run lab tests to determine if you are going through early menopause.
FSH Test: Measures the blood levels of your follicle stimulating hormone. FSH levels rise when your ovaries stop producing estrogen. Levels above 10 mul/ml show the beginning of ovarian failure. At this level you may still be experiencing periods on and off. Levels of 35 to 40 usually mean ovarian failure or menopause. It is possible to have periods even when the FSH levels are high.
Estradiol Test: Estradiol l is a form of estrogen circulating in the blood. Levels below 36 are considered menopausal.
Other Tests: Tests are performed to measure the hormonal levels of progesterone, testosterone, luteinizing hormones, and thyroid hormones.
Early Menopause Factors:
Genetics: Five percent of women experience genetically induced early menopause. But why does this happen? You may produce fewer eggs; you may stop producing the hormones needed for ovulation; have genetic irregularities in your X chromosomes; or other factors causing the decline of ovarian function.
My mother experienced early menopause. She was experiencing no periods when she conceived me. She was in her late 40’s when she became pregnant and I was 5 years late. I began my periods early at 9 years old. My period started with severe pain every month which continued until menopause. I went into menopause about the same age as my mother. She was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. I was also diagnosed with it when I was a early teen. Interestingly, I also inherited my mother’s premature gray hair and varicose veins as well. I was gray by 25 and so was my oldest sister. So in my case, the causes were genetics and hypothyroidism.
Autoimmune Diseases: The majority of POV (65%) are caused from autoimmune diseases. In these women, the body develops antibodies to its own ovum and menses. This means your immune system is not working properly. Autoimmune diseases that cause early menopause include hypothyroidism, Graves’ Disease, and Lupus.
Infection: Mumps and tuberculosis can affect your ovaries and hormonal balance causing early menopause. This only happens rarely.
Surgical Menopause: Induced menopause caused by a surgical operation. If you undergo an Oopherectomy (ovarian removal), you will experience early menopause. The ovaries produce estrogen and testosterone. These hormones are no longer produced when the ovaries are removed, which induces early menopause. The removal of your ovaries is usually performed in ovarian cancer, some hysterectomies, and for endometriosis in some cases.
Early menopause can occur, even in some cases where the ovaries are left in. This is caused by blood flow that somehow gets reduced or cut off to the ovaries during the surgical procedure. This loss of blood flow can cause POV. This is one factor that is not explained to many women. Even though this risk does not happen often, it does occur in some cases. Women should be given information on all possible risks when choosing surgery for their female problems.
Cancer Treatment: Chemotherapy and radiation kill both cancerous and healthy cells as well. The cells that make up your hair, digestive lining, and ovaries are especially sensitive to the effects of the cancer treatments. In some cases, early menopause may be temporary but often it is permanent.
Treatment for Surgical Menopause: hormone replacement therapy or HRT. The subject of HRT deserves a whole article devoted to it. I chose to explain only the causes of early menopause in this one.