Early menopause

Menopause typically occurs between the ages of 45 to 55, but did you know it can also develop prematurely?

Early menopause can affect women in their 20s or 30s, and sometimes even begin during the teen years. Its symptoms can be just as difficult to live with, and is leading campaigners to call for more awareness in the workplace, including menopause leave.

So, what causes early menopause? Learn everything you need to know in this post.

What is early menopause?

Early menopause refers to the onset of menopause before the age of 40. It is a result of the depletion of ovarian follicles and reduced oestrogen production, which leads to menstrual irregularities and infertility.

Women often experience symptoms similar to those of natural menopause, such as hot flushes and mood changes. Here’s a list of the most common symptoms you may experience:

  • Irregular periods or complete cessation of menstrual cycles
  • Hot flushes and night sweats
  • Low sexual desire
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Memory problems
  • Increased risk of osteoporosis

It’s important to note that not all women will experience all the above symptoms, and the severity can vary.

What causes early menopause?

The exact cause of early menopause can be difficult to determine. However, some of the known causes include surgery, cancer treatments, and ovary failure. Let’s take a deeper look into each of these causes…

Ovary removal surgery

Removal of both ovaries through surgery will induce premature or early menopause. This can occur, for instance, as a result of ovary removal during a hysterectomy procedure (surgical removal of the uterus).

Cancer treatments

If you undergo cancer treatment, there is an increased risk of triggering the early menopause. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy may result in premature ovarian failure, which can either be permanent or temporary. The likelihood of experiencing early menopause is influenced by:

  • Age: Younger girls who have yet to reach puberty have a higher tolerance for stronger cancer treatments compared to older women.
  • Type of treatment: Different chemotherapy treatments can have varying effects on the ovaries.
  • Location of radiotherapy: A greater risk of premature menopause is associated with radiotherapy around the brain or pelvis.

Ovary failure

The most common cause of the early menopause is when a woman’s ovaries naturally fail to produce adequate levels of hormones, particularly oestrogen. This is also referred to as premature ovarian failure or primary ovarian insufficiency.

The cause of premature ovarian failure is often unknown; however, it may be due to:

  • Chromosome abnormalities: such as in women with Turner syndrome
  • Autoimmune diseases: where the immune system attacks body tissues
  • Rare infections: such as tuberculosis, malaria, and mumps

A family history (in the 20s or early 30s) may indicate a genetic predisposition to premature ovarian failure.

Diagnosing early menopause

If you are worried you may be experiencing early menopause, your GP will be able to make a diagnosis based upon your symptoms, family history, and by carrying out blood tests. There are treatments available to help ease the symptoms, and improve your chances of conceiving.

If you would like a menopausal health check with a specialist gynaecology consultant, or if you would like to talk about your fertility options, book a consultation by calling our friendly reception team today.