From sticking your head inside the freezer during hot flashes to coming to grips with the fact your child-bearing years are behind you, menopause is a reality for every woman at some point. While most women have some idea as to when it will take place, others start noticing significant changes far sooner than they’d expected. Here’s everything you need to know about early menopause.
1. Early menopause begins before age 40
Most women know what they’re up against as their biological clocks continue to tick. Over the years, it’s only natural that looks will fade, bodies will change, and most importantly, having children will no longer be possible. And the worse part is, menopause may not be too far off.
Menopause officially occurs when a woman stops having her period. According to the National Institute on Aging, the average age of menopause is 51. When menopause begins before the age of 40, the Office on Women’s Health says, it’s considered early.
2. Signs of early menopause and more typical menopause are the same
Despite differences in age, a woman who experiences early menopause is in the same boat as a woman who goes through it later in life. Perimenopause, which is the beginning stage, occurs before your final period. It’s pretty much like the parade before the grande finale — if, of course, that parade consisted of mood swings, hot flashes, and changes in your menstrual cycle. Verywell says additional signs you’re about to start, or have already begun, menopause include changes in sleep patterns, heart palpitations, and low sex drive.
3. Some medical treatments may trigger early menopause
It’s possible early menopause will occur without much rhyme or reason. But in some cases, it can be a result or side effect of something else, according to MedicineNet.com. For example, chemotherapy can damage a woman’s ovaries, which may trigger a wonky menstrual cycle or cause it to stop altogether. Specific surgeries that remove a woman’s reproductive organs, such as her ovaries or uterus, will also stop a woman’s period.
4. Lifestyle factors can also play a role
By now, you’re well-aware several factors impact your overall health. Cigarettes are bad, exercise is good — the list goes on. So it’s no surprise lifestyle choices can also have an effect on the timing of menopause. According to Healthline, smoking, weight, diet, and lack of exercise can all contribute to early menopause.
5. Early menopause can be mistaken for primary ovarian insufficiency
Early menopause is not the same as primary ovarian insufficiency, though the two are sometimes confused. Menopause, regardless of age, signals the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle for the rest of her life, making it impossible for her to get pregnant. POI, on the other hand, occurs when a woman’s ovaries stop working normally before the age of 40. In this case, a woman’s cycle may vastly change. For example, she may still get her period, but on an irregular schedule. Therefore, a woman with POI may still get pregnant.
6. Early menopause may increase the risk for certain diseases
As if going through this major life change earlier than expected weren’t bad enough, the hot flashes and irregular periods may be the least of your worries. When menopause occurs, a woman’s ovaries stop producing estrogen, the female hormone that can help in staving off certain diseases. Research suggests the later a woman goes through menopause, the greater her life expectancy. Additionally, later menopause has been associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and osteoporosis.
7. But it may reduce the risk for other diseases
Now for some good news. Early menopause just may help reduce your risk of other diseases — breast and ovarian cancers, to be specific. Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts, told Prevention, “Women with higher circulating levels of estrogens have a higher risk of developing breast cancer, so those who hit menopause earlier actually have a lower risk of breast cancer than women who reach menopause later.” Additionally, Prevention says the same goes for ovarian cancer, which is linked to the number of ovulations a woman has.
8. Early menopause can take a serious toll on your emotions
Menopause brings about a whole slew of significant changes, no matter what your age. But possibly the worst part of early menopause is — at least for women who are still hoping to conceive — the harsh reality they’re no longer fertile. It’s totally possible, and quite realistic, a woman in her thirties is looking forward to starting a family, or having more children. But for a woman who’s gone through early menopause, it’s impossible. However, there are options, like donor egg programs and adoption.
If you suspect you’re on the brink of early menopause, or menopause at any age, talk to your doctor about what to expect. Going into the process as informed as possible will help you in the long run.