6 Signs You’re Going Through Early Menopause

From hot flashes to mood swings to vaginal dryness—here are the signs of early menopause, why it happens, and how it affects your health.

Women under 45 may deal with unbearable symptoms—but there are ways to cope.

By Brielle Gregory, Prevention

When you’re in your 30s or early 40s and you miss a period or two, you’re likely going to consider only one thing: pregnancy. The one condition that probably doesn’t come to mind? Early menopause.
“The thing is, most women aren’t going to say, ‘Oh, I wonder if this is premature menopause?’” says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the Yale University School of Medicine.

Fact: 5% of women ages 40 to 45 will experience early menopause

Most women will go through menopause between the ages of 40 and 58. But about 1 percent of women under the age of 40 will experience premature menopause, while 5 percent of women ages 40 to 45 will experience early menopause, according to the federal Office on Women’s Health.

The only thing that really separates premature, early, and standard menopause? The timing. “The real definition is no period for one full year with no obvious other reason,” says Alyssa Dweck, MD, a New York-based gynecologist, such as pregnancy, breast cancer, or hyperthyroidism.

Even though menopause is a natural condition that all women will eventually go through, when it happens early, it can bring consequences that a later menopause might not. Aside from the unpleasant symptoms, it also prohibits you from having children naturally. “If someone is menopausal early and was planning on having a kid at age 40, these are potentially devastating consequences for people to deal with,” says Dr. Minkin.

Here’s everything women under the age of 45 should know about early menopause—and what it means for your health.

What causes early menopause?

Although doctors don’t fully know what causes early menopause, there are two big indicators: genetics or an abnormality in the way your chromosomes are structured. “Some of it is just as simple as if your mother went through early menopause, you’re more likely to go through early menopause,” says Dr. Dweck.

The second big indicator is called fragile X syndrome—which causes intellectual disability in children—and is often tested in prenatal women, says Dr. Minkin. “If somebody does show up with early ovarian failure, we will check chromosomes to see if something like that might be in play,” she explains.

That ovarian failure sums up what’s really happening when you experience early menopause: your ovaries stop producing estrogen.

But even if you have the genetic history or test positive for fragile X syndrome, early menopause can still be difficult to diagnose. That’s because in order to truly prove early menopause, a woman has to undergo tests that analyze hormone levels, says Dr. Minkin.

As your estrogen goes down, other hormones produced by the pituitary glands go up in an effort to get your ovaries back to work. That means your hormone levels can fluctuate dramatically, making a diagnosis tough unless you undergo several rounds of testing, which people rarely do. “The trick is in recognizing it,” says Dr. Minkin.

What are the symptoms of early menopause?

Early menopause has the same staple symptoms as later menopause, including:
  • Night sweats
  • Hot flashes
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Bone loss
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability or mood swings

The biggest difference is that these symptoms are typically much worse than they are during “regular” menopause.“When you’re 45, you usually have lower hormonal levels than somebody who’s 25, so your body’s gotten used to gradually lower levels,” says Dr. Minkin. “But when you’re somebody who’s 35 and your ovaries are pooping out, it’s probably going to be more sudden for you and more difficult.”

How to deal with early menopause

If you’re experiencing menopausal symptoms before the age of 45, it’s important to get to a doctor to rule out other health conditions, and to get the treatment you need in order to cope with symptoms.

“If they’re bothered by it, then it’s time to seek medical care,” says Dr. Minkin. “When you’re waking up every two hours sweating and you’re not getting good sleep, that can be a drag.”

The condition isn’t reversible, but if you’re experiencing early menopause and still want to have children, there is a chance for doctors to retrieve some of the antibodies left in your ovaries—and the younger you are, the better fit you’ll be for a donor egg program. What’s more, there are some lifestyle changes that can make the entire ordeal more bearable.

Avoid hot flash triggers

Red wine, caffeine, or spicy foods will make things worse.

Pop a supplement

Dr. Dweck recommends Relizin, which targets menopausal symptoms. You can also try a calcium supplement to prevent bone loss—just be sure to check in with your doc to make sure you’re taking an amount that’s best for you.

Consider hormone therapy

Women who go through early menopause without estrogen treatment have a very high rate of premature heart disease, osteoporosis, and dementia, says Dr. Minkin. That’s because estrogen helps keep your HDL (good) cholesterol up, and your LDL (bad) cholesterol down. Plus, it also stretches your blood vessels and increases blood flow—a good thing when it comes to combating stress, she adds.

“Even if you’re not having terrible symptoms, I encourage my patients who go through menopause early to take estrogen replacement therapy,” says Dr. Minkin, which often comes in the form of pills, skin patches, creams and gels, or a vaginal ring.

See more at: Prevention


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Women's Magazine: 6 Signs You’re Going Through Early Menopause
6 Signs You’re Going Through Early Menopause
From hot flashes to mood swings to vaginal dryness—here are the signs of early menopause, why it happens, and how it affects your health.
Women's Magazine
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