Premature Menopause Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.
- Premature (early) menopause definition and facts
- What is premature menopause?
- What causes early menopause?
- Risk factors for early menopause
- Signs and symptoms of early menopause
- How is early menopause is diagnosed?
- Treatments to relieve signs and symptoms
- What are complications of premature menopause?
- What is the outlook for a woman in early menopause?
- Find a local Obstetrician-Gynecologist in your town
Premature (early) menopause definition and facts
- When menopause occurs before the age of 40, it is referred to as premature menopause.
- One medical cause of premature menopause is premature ovarian failure.
- Other causes of premature menopause include damage to the ovaries by chemotherapy and/or radiation treatments, or surgical removal of the ovaries.
- The symptoms of premature menopause include mood swings, vaginal dryness, cognitive changes, hot flashes, decrease in sex drive, and sleep disturbances. Symptoms are the same as those of menopause that occurs later in life.
- Diagnostic tests can show an elevated level of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and low level of estradiol.
- There is no treatment that can reverse or prevent premature menopause.
- Hormone therapy and other treatments are available to help relieve the symptoms of premature menopause.
- Complications of premature menopause include infertility and an increased risk for osteoporosis.
What is premature menopause?
Menopause is the time in a woman's life when menstrual periods cease. It is defined medically as the absence of menstrual periods for 12 consecutive months. The average age for a natural menopause is 51. Sometimes, menopause occurs earlier, due to diseases, genetic factors, or surgery. There is also a wide variation among women regarding the timing of normal menopause.
What causes early menopause?
As mentioned previously, menopause before the age of 40 are considered to be in premature, or early, menopause. One medical causes of premature menopause is known as premature ovarian failure. Technically, premature ovarian failure is not the same as premature menopause. In premature ovarian failure, the ovaries stop functioning normally before the age of 40. Women with premature ovarian failure may still occasionally have menstrual periods, but they typically experience infertility. Premature ovarian failure is usually accompanied primary ovarian insufficiency. Premature ovarian failure is usually accompanied by the symptoms of premature menopause.
Premature menopause can also be caused by treatments for cancers or other conditions that involve chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy to the pelvis. These treatments can damage the ovaries and result in ovarian failure.
Surgery to remove the ovaries, either for benign or malignant conditions, results in premature menopause if both ovaries are removed. Surgery to remove the uterus results in menopause only in the sense that menstrual bleeding does not occur. In that case, the ovaries will continue to produce hormones.
Other infrequent causes that may lead to premature menopause include drugs, chronic diseases, pituitary and hypothalamic tumors, psychiatric disorders, and other relatively rare or undefined conditions.
Risk factors for early menopause
Premature ovarian failure affects about 1 out of every 1000 women from ages 15 to 29 and about 1 out of every 100 women aged 30 to 39. It can be related to genetic (inherited) factors, to illnesses like autoimmune diseases, thyroid disease, viral infection, hormonal disorders, and eating disorders. The risk of premature ovarian failure risk increases in women who have relatives with the condition.
Signs and symptoms of early menopause
The symptoms of premature menopause are those of typical menopause. They can include:
- Mood swings
- Vaginal dryness
- Changes in cognition and memory
- Hot flashes
- Diminished desire for sex
- Sleep disturbances
- Weight gain
- Night sweats
- Vaginal pain during intercourse
Irregular periods usually precede menopause, and can begin years before periods actually cease.
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