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What happens when menopause comes early?

The average age for menopause is 51, but some women arrive at menopause much earlier. About 5 percent of women have what’s known as early menopause, beginning between ages 40 and 45. Another 1 percent reach premature menopause before 40.

Why do some people start menopause early?

For some, menopause is induced as part of a medical treatment. This happens if the ovaries are surgically removed, or as a side effect of some types of chemotherapy or radiation. There are also medications that cause menopause to help treat an illness. 

Sometimes menopause is the result of premature ovarian insufficiency (POI), a term that simply means the ovaries have stopped producing eggs. POI can be related to genetic factors or an autoimmune disease. For many people, the cause of POI is never discovered.

What are the signs of early or premature menopause? 

The symptoms of early or premature menopause are similar to the symptoms of menopause at any other age. If you’re having symptoms and you’re under 45, it could be a sign of early or premature menopause.

Some of the most common menopause symptoms are:

  • Changes in your menstrual cycle (your periods might be longer or shorter than usual, or you may skip periods)
  • Hot flashes
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Bladder changes, including needing to urinate more often or having less bladder control
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Mood changes
  • Weight gain

These symptoms can also be signs of other health issues. If you have symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause. 

Taking care of your body when menopause comes early

With menopause, the ovaries produce less estrogen and other hormones. Since these hormones help protect the heart, bones, and brain, your doctor will likely recommend a prescription for hormone therapy. Taking hormones (usually until the average age of natural menopause) can help lower your risk for heart disease, dementia, and osteoporosis. 

If you have side effects that impact your sex life — such as vaginal dryness or low libido — let your doctor know. Estrogen can be an effective treatment for vaginal dryness and some women use testosterone therapy to boost their libidos. 

Options for building a family

If you’ve been planning to start a family, early or premature menopause can be a devastating diagnosis. You may need to re-imagine your plans. Some women are able to freeze eggs or embryos. Others choose in vitro fertilization with donor eggs, and some women choose surrogacy or adoption. Your healthcare provider can help you understand your options. 

Taking care of your mental health when menopause comes early

Early menopause can have a deep impact on a person’s emotional wellbeing. You may find yourself thinking about aging more seriously than you’ve ever done before, seeing your body in a different way, and having to re-imagine your plans for parenthood. And there are also unexpected new health risks to balance. All of this is a lot to process.

Please reach out to friends and family to talk about how you’re feeling. If you have a partner, it can help to be open with each other about how menopause may be changing your physical relationship and your family plans. 

If you are struggling, please also talk with your healthcare provider or a therapist. You are not alone, and there are lots of ways to help with the emotional and physical challenges that can come with early menopause. 

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team


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