Premature menopause is menopause that occurs at or before age 40. When the ovaries cease to function, pregnancy is no longer possible, and periods stop. Premature menopause can be induced as a result of surgery (removal of ovaries) or medical treatment (such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy). It can result from genetic factors (when your mother or sister may also have premature menopause), or naturally with no obvious causes. Sometimes it is called premature ovarian failure, which can be an autoimmune problem (when the body attacks its own organs).
The symptoms of premature menopause may be the same as for women reaching menopause at the typical age of 51:
Irregular or loss of periods for 3 or more months
Hot flashes, night sweats, sleep disturbances, mood swings
Vaginal dryness or burning, painful intercourse
Decreased sex drive
Loss of fertility
Difficulty with sleep
It is important to consult with your healthcare provider if you experience these symptoms. A complete physical exam and blood tests can help determine the cause and rule out other medical conditions that may present with similar symptoms, such as pregnancy or thyroid disease, or other causes of missed periods. Women interested in conceiving should consult their healthcare providers regarding fertility options as soon as possible.
Some women view premature menopause cheerfully as five or more “extra” period-free years. Others have concerns about premature aging. Others find the loss of fertility or transition to postmenopause at a much younger age than their peers very distressing. What’s true for every woman is that the health impact of premature menopause and early loss of estrogen should be evaluated individually so that an informed decision can be made about how symptoms can be relieved and long-term risks of premature estrogen loss can be decreased.
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For more information have a look at the NAMS Menopause Guidebook.