Premature menopause often widens the stare of women whenever I discussed this topic with them.
Menopause is troublesome enough and early menopause obviously triggers some concerns among women.
I will discuss the definition, causes, symptoms and treatments of this condition.
In the U.S., the average age of onset for "natural" menopause is 51. When menopause occurs in a woman younger than 40 years, it is considered to be early or premature. It affects about 1 % of the general population.
It is also called Premature Ovarian Failure (POF). Note that it is not normal or natural menopause. It is an early loss of the functions of the ovaries which are the production of hormones and ova.
Why should the ovaries stop functioning before the expected time? There are many causes that may lead to this loss of function. However, what is common amongst these causes is the destruction of the ovaries.
Common causes include
The age of onset can be as early as the teenage years but varies widely depending on the cause.
The signs of early menopause are often the same as those experienced by women undergoing natural menopause and may include irregular or heavy periods and hot flashes. They are usually more severe than those of natural menopause.
There may be also the symptoms associated with the underlying cause. Therefore not all the symptoms are associated with the early menopause.
The diagnosis of early menopause has to be made by the physician. Usually, this involves a clinical examination and some few lab tests.
The most important lab test used for the diagnosis of both menopause and early menopause is the blood levels of Follicle Stimulating Hormone( FSH). It is produced by the pituitary gland of the brain and causes the ovaries to produce estrogen.
Menopause causes low levels of estrogen and the FSH therefore increases in order to help increase the estrogen levels back to normal.This high levels of FSH is what is diagnostic of Menopause.
When should I think of the possibility of premature menopause?
The treatment of early menopause follows three basic principles.
Unfortunately, this condition is very unlikely to be reversed once it has been initiated.
This is a major issue amongst most women with early menopause. Though it is a difficult issue to handle, 5 to 10% of women may become pregnant spontaneously without any specific treatment.
Furthermore, there is no approved treatment to increase fertility at the moment for these women.
Early menopause has an additional health risk that it brings. Remember, it is a "risk" and not all of them are "written on stone", that is, must occur in all women.
Return From Premature Menopause to Menopause to Menstruation