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Managing early menopause for long-term health

middle-aged woman We’ve all heard the horror stories of menopause symptoms: mood swings, hot flashes, insomnia, weight gain and more. This is a stage of life that many women dread. But what about when menopause occurs much earlier than you expected? Premature or early menopause can affect your sense of self and your plans for the future, and create new health concerns.

Women younger than 40 years old who enter menopause are considered to be experiencing early or premature menopause. Menopause occurring naturally before age 40 is sometimes called premature ovarian failure, or primary ovarian insufficiency. Knowing if you’ve entered menopause can take a while. Usually, menopause isn’t confirmed until a woman hasn’t had her period for 12 months in a row. Early menopause causes your estrogen levels to decline, causing symptoms such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Hot flashes
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings
  • Vaginal dryness

Other symptoms that may be associated with menopause or may just come from getting older include forgetfulness and weight gain.

Most cases of premature menopause have no known cause. You may experience early menopause as a result of medical treatments such as chemotherapy or pelvic radiation for cancer, or surgery to remove the ovaries or uterus. Menopause can also occur early if you have an autoimmune disease (such as thyroid disease or rheumatoid arthritis), chromosome defects, or simply have a genetic predisposition from your family.

Early menopause can actually cause additional health concerns. Estrogen offers protection against cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Losing this protection earlier than expected may you leave you at an increased risk for heart and vascular problems, and osteoporosis-related bone fractures.

You can determine if you’ve reached early menopause by speaking to your doctor and undergoing blood tests to measure estrogen and related hormone levels. If you want to know whether you can still become pregnant, blood tests are important as a first step in determining your fertility. If you’re experiencing problems with menopause-related symptoms, ask your doctor if treatments such as menopausal hormone therapy could help.

Learn more about menopause by searching our Health Encyclopedia.