What Is Premature Menopause, & What Can You Do About It?

Jun 13, 2018 at 8:00 a.m. ET
Image: Getty Images/Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows

Most women will experience menopause beginning anytime between their late 40s to mid-50s, with the average age being 52. But sometimes it can occur much earlier.

Premature menopause affects 1 percent of women under the age of 40 according to a study published in the Annals of Medical and Health Science Research. If you’re part of the 1 percent, you know all too well how this change can impact your life.

What is premature menopause?

Premature menopause is defined as going into menopause before the age of 40. If your ovaries stop producing estrogen and your female hormone reserves become depleted, you’re likely experiencing menopause.

More: What to Eat If You're Going Through Perimenopause

The signs of premature menopause are the same as menopause (hot flashes, night sweats, trouble sleeping, mood swings and a lower sex drive); you’re just experiencing them a lot sooner. Since many women don’t expect to go through menopause before age 40, it’s not uncommon to dismiss the signs. If you have not had your period for 12 months in a row, it’s time to talk with your doctor about premature menopause.

What causes premature menopause?

While the exact causes of premature menopause are unknown, there are some potential causes to be aware of.

Family history: If there is a family history of premature menopause, you are more likely to experience menopause before age 40 according to the Office on Women's Health.

Medical conditions or procedures: Sometimes menopause can be accelerated by medical conditions or procedures, which is called induced menopause, Dr. Pam Dee, an OB-GYN, tells SheKnows.

“For example, if you’re undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy you may experience damage to your ovaries, which can make them fail more quickly,” she explains. Dee says this can also happen if you have your ovaries removed during a surgery, such as a hysterectomy. You go into the surgery still menstruating and come out of it immediately menopausal.

Genetic conditions: It could be in your genes. Certain genetic conditions such as fragile X syndrome and Turner’s syndrome may contribute to premature menopause, Dr. Mache Seibel, an OB-GYN, tells SheKnows.

Autoimmune diseases: Autoimmune causes of premature menopause include thyroid diseases, mumps, hyperparathyroidism and Addison's disease.

Primary ovarian insufficiency: Dee says that some women younger than 40 may experience spontaneous and rapid failure of their ovaries. “This might be due to an autoimmune disorder or genetic predisposition to early menopause and is called primary ovarian insufficiency,” she says. However, it’s important to note that POF is not a guarantee that you will experience premature menopause.

Smoking: Many of the causes of premature menopause are out of your control, but not smoking. “Smoking cigarettes has been shown to be a factor in causing an earlier menopausal transition,” says Dee.

What can you do about it?

While there are no treatments to prevent or reverse premature menopause, you do have options when it comes to dealing with and managing the symptoms of premature menopause.

If you’re still young, have a family history of premature menopause, and you want to have kids, you might want to consider getting pregnant earlier, says Seibel. Because once you enter premature menopause, you will not be able to get pregnant.

And if you’re not ready to have kids but may want them in the future, Seibel says to consider freezing embryos (fertilized eggs) or if you’re single, freeze your eggs.

“In the past few years, this has become fairly successful,” he says. But before you make any decisions, make sure you pick a center that has a lot of experience, so their results will be as good as possible. Seibel also recommends asking about their success rates.

Also, if you require radiation, Seibel says you can have surgery to tack your ovaries higher in the pelvis to avoid pelvic radiation.

And if you’re already experiencing premature menopause, consider talking to your doctor about ways to manage the symptoms.

Dr. Sherry Ross, an OB-GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, says simple lifestyle adjustments such as regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, sleeping seven hours a night and reducing your use of alcohol can help manage the symptoms of menopause.

Medications such as hormone-replacement therapy may also be helpful if you’re experiencing premature menopause.

More: Perimenopause Symptoms You Might Not Realize You're Experiencing

If you have any questions about premature menopause, it’s important that you talk with your doctor or health care provider. They can help you understand what your body is going through and support you as you make this transition.

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