For the woman in her 30s, missing a period or two isn’t a big deal. Women at this age think they’re too young for menopause. But the thing is, menopause can happen prematurely, and we are going to find out some causes of early menopause here!
Early menopause may come at the peak of your youth or at a time when you want to start a family. This is why fertility is a major issue in women who have this condition. About 5% of women aged 40 to 45 and 1% from 30 to 40 experience early menopause.
Don’t let early menopause overwhelm you! Let’s find out more about the causes of early menopause and how you can manage it better!
What is Early Menopause?
Early or premature menopause means menopause that happens before the average age of normal menopause. It happens in your 20s and 30s. In early menopause, your ovaries stop working and they will no longer produce hormones.
Experts say it’s hard to pinpoint what causes early menopause. This is why most cases are unknown in origin. Menopause has two common symptoms: irregular periods and hot flashes. Early menopause on the other hand, has two classic signs:
- Sudden lack of periods
- Hormone tests that reveal low Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), Luteinizing Hormone (LH) and estrogen levels
Early menopause has two types: spontaneous and induced. The main cause of spontaneous early menopause is Premature Ovarian Failure (POF). POF means you lose your ovarian functions before the age of 40.
Induced early menopause, on the other hand, means it’s a result of medical interventions. In the past, little information was available about early menopause. But with recent studies and discussions, there is much available information about it.
What are the Causes of Early Menopause?
These are risk factors, disorders and medical procedures that may contribute to early menopause.
- Family history – puts us 6 times at risk of early menopause.
- Genetics – you need two X chromosomes for the ovaries to function. But some women only have one X chromosome. As a result, their ovaries fail to form or mature.
- Chronic stress – if our body senses severe stress, it shuts off other organs in the body, like the ovaries.
- Smoking – most smokers experience menopause 1 to 2 years earlier than non-smokers. This is because of the anti-estrogen effects of nicotine.
- Being underweight – Poor nutrition, undernourishment and eating disorders can all cause low weight. Being underweight affects estrogen production and the more likely we experience early menopause.
- Excessive physical training – don’t get us wrong, exercise is good, but too much may also be harmful. Athletes who train in an intense way lose a large percentage of their fats and become too lean. Excessive physical training can also strain our organs, including the ovaries.
Natural Causes of Early Menopause:
- Premature Ovarian Failure (POF) – the ovaries fail to produce eggs and hormones for unknown reasons. This may be genetic by nature or a result of enzyme deficiencies or metabolic syndromes.
- Autoimmune diseases – conditions that cause your immune cells to attack your own organs. Examples of autoimmune conditions are thyroid disease, celiac disease and chronic candidiasis.
- Declining hormones – as we age, we produce less hormones responsible for menstruation. Sometimes, hormone decline happens faster in some women. One cause for this fluctuation is poor lifestyle habits. A diet filled with processed foods and exposure to environmental toxins are also causes.
- Diminished ovarian reserve (DOR) – usually a side effect of infertility treatments. These treatments reduce our follicles and decrease our eggs. Without eggs, we will not ovulate. Ovulation is important because it triggers the release of hormones.
- Epilepsy – experts say menopause happens a decade earlier in women who have epilepsy. When seizures occur, it affects the parts of our brain which regulates hormones.
Medical Causes of Early Menopause:
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy – these treatments may damage your ovaries, causing early menopause.
- Surgical removal of both ovaries – also known as bilateral oophorectomy. This surgery causes early menopause. Right after the surgery, our period immediately stops. This also stops the production of our female hormones.
- Surgical removal of the uterus – removes a major artery which connects to your ovaries. This artery delivers blood and nutrients to the ovaries. Early menopause may not set in right away after surgery, but it will later – after a year or two.
A recent research from Australia explains that reproductive history predicts early menopause. There were two markers of reproductive health. One, the first period and two, the number of children. Women who had menstruation before 12 years old and women who never gave birth are at risk of early menopause.
Dr. Hansen has a video where he explains the causes of early menopause. He shows us why early menopause comes 2 to 10 years earlier in some women and how we can prevent it (5:04):
Common Early Menopause Symptoms
From physical to emotional discomforts, early menopause symptoms disturbs your life in a big way. If you’re experiencing this in your 20s and 30s, it feels like you’re growing too old too fast overnight.
Early menopause symptoms are the typical irregular periods, cessation of menstruation and hot flashes. Night sweats, vaginal dryness, vaginal atrophy, low libido and mood swings happen too. Besides this, there are also emotional and psychological symptoms. You also have to face fertility issues.
6 Tips to Prevent the Causes of Early Menopause
We can stop some causes of early menopause by choosing to live healthy. Here are 6 natural methods that we can try!
- Watch what you eat. Cut processed foods and integrate more organic and natural foods. They contain less pesticides, additives and chemical preservatives. We can also have more phytoestrogenic and adaptogenic herbs in our diet. When eating meat, make sure to choose grass-fed and organic. Add more superfoods in your diet too!
- Delay aging! Believe it or not, we can slow down aging. One way to do this is to fill our body with antioxidants. Antioxidants flushes out free radicals and harmful toxins. This enables healthier cells and healing damaged faster. Citrus fruits, cruciferous veggies, nuts, seeds and beans are rich in antioxidants.
- Quit smoking. Nicotine causes plaque to build up in the blood vessels. This narrows pathways, blocks blood flow and decreases oxygen. We need to improve blood circulation to our ovaries so they can work at their best!
- Move more! Walking, jogging, Pilates, yoga and meditation can make a huge difference in preventing early menopause. When we move, we are able to improve blood circulation, burn fats and cleanse our body from toxins.
- Fight Stress. Chronic stress messes our hormone production and body functions which cause early menopause. Give your body and mind time to relax. Focus on re-evaluating your life and let go of extra baggage that are not good for you. Relieve stress in simple ways like deep breathing, visualization and aromatherapy.
- Treat existing medical conditions. Thyroid problems and diabetes have direct effects to hormone production and regulation. Pay more attention to existing health issues and listen to your body to find solutions for them. Visiting our doctor for health evaluation is also a good idea to start with.
How is Early Menopause Diagnosed?
There are many reasons why we lose our periods. Early menopause is just one. For this reason, it can be a challenge to diagnose early menopause. Your doctor may order some tests first to rule out other conditions. They will also take note of your symptoms to come up with a diagnosis.
Doctors usually combine health assessments with laboratory tests in diagnosing early menopause. They will also consider our age. Lack of period for four months, hot flashes and high Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) indicate early menopause.
But diagnosis isn’t given right then and there. It may last a few months to years because symptoms are variable and changing.
Besides the FSH test, you will also take an anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH) test. This is to check for ovarian reserves and follicle count. Hormone tests for progesterone, testosterone and luteinizing hormone (LH) are also common.
The Effects of Early Menopause
The emotional effects of early menopause are important. Since it happens without warning, many women are caught off-guard. It may come as a shock that hurts their self-image.
Realizing that it may be difficult to bear children is a challenge to many women. This is especially true for those who haven’t started a family yet. A woman may feel young on the outside, but she feels different on the inside.
Fertility treatments are common in early menopause, but experts say they only provide a 20% to 40% chance of reactivating our ovaries. Early menopause also causes some health issues such as:
- Bone loss. Early menopause affects calcium deposits because of declining estrogen.
- Heart disease. Estrogen is the main hormone which protects our arteries. With its decline during early menopause, we increase our risk of heart diseases.
- Psychological problems. Early menopause can cause distress. It interrupts our plans in life, which can cause anxiety and depression.
Some women may feel like they’ve lost their femininity and youth, and they may show signs of self-pity.
5 Steps You Can Take to Overcome Early Menopause
Without the neon sign saying “welcome to early menopause”, what then should we do? Here are five steps that you can take now!
- Talk to your doctor. If you notice changes in your body that you can’t understand (especially if it’s your periods), make an appointment ASAP!
- Understand that your family plans may change. There are options to consider if early menopause is imminent and you’re planning to have a family. Some of your options include egg freezing and in-vitro fertilization (IVF). The main difference between egg freezing and IVF is the type of eggs stored. Egg freezing stores unfertilized eggs while IVF stores fertilized eggs. This means that eggs in IVF underwent fertilization with sperm cells and are ready for implantation in the uterus. Other options such as using donor eggs, adoption and surrogacy are also available.
- Your libido may change. Along with low hormone levels, you may experience low sexual desire and vaginal dryness. Remember, you can get your mojo back! Talk to your partner and improve intimacy. You can also use lubrication during intercourse.
- Talk to a therapist. Getting extra support is one way to help yourself. Besides your partner, family and friends, a therapist can offer good advice and solutions.
- Get support! Open up to your family, friends and loved ones about it. You don’t have to share everything. Understanding the big picture is good enough. Support can go a long way in the relief of our emotional baggage during this time.
Nia Fisher was 35, but she had night sweats, hot flashes, sleep disturbances and irregular periods. She also had mood swings and was down most of the time. Bothered by all the discomforts, she visited a GP and an endocrinologist.
Nia was in disbelief that she had early menopause at 35. It was because of premature ovarian failure or early menopause.
Many women face the same situation. Early menopause puts us at odds with infertility, aging and long-term relationships. We know it may be not easy at first, but there’s help out there! Jean Haile’s from Women’s Health also has great tips to help cope with early menopause.
If you’re in your late 20s, you can watch this video by Lillian Masie. She talks about her own experience about early menopause and how she’s facing the challenge of infertility issues (14:24):
You can also go to healthtalk.org and get inspiration from other women who experienced early menopause.
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