Are You at Risk of Premature Menopause?
Some women suffer the menopause before the age of 40, putting them in the category of women going through a premature menopause. The same symptoms which are attributed to a natural menopause still occur, such as emotional problems, hot flushes, vaginal dryness and a lower sex drive. However, for some women going through this early in life, the symptoms can be even more severe. Studies also suggest that women who have a premature menopause also seem to get weaker bones faster than those going through this at a later stage in life. This increases the risk of osteoporosis and bone damage. There are a number of reasons why women go through premature menopause, from genetic causes to unexpected results from surgery. Defects in the woman’s chromosomes could be a cause, such as in women with Turner’s syndrome who are born without a second X chromosome. This causes the ovaries to not develop properly, leading to menopause earlier than expected. Likewise, women who have a family history of early menopause are more likely to experience it early themselves.
Researchers have found that autoimmune diseases can also trigger this process – the body’s own immune system mistakes part of the reproductive system to be a threat and attacks it, damaging the ovaries and preventing them from producing female hormones. In women who have had surgery to remove the ovaries, known as a bilateral oophorectomy, menopause occurs straight away. This means she will no longer have periods and her hormone production will decrease at a rapid rate. She may also experience menopausal symptoms immediately too, such as hot flushes and a lowered sexual desire. Chemotherapy can also cause ovarian damage, leading to a premature menopause. It’s common for women who are undergoing chemotherapy to stop having periods, suffer fertility issues and even lose their fertility. It may take a few months or it sometimes happens straight away. This cause of early menopause depends on the type of chemotherapy you have, the age you are when you have it, and how long the treatment lasts for though, so you will need to discuss this with your GP. The younger you are when you undergo the chemo, the less likely you are to go through the menopause early.
If you think you’re suffering from premature menopause, your GP will probably ask you if you’ve noticed any changes that are commonly associated with menopause, such as vaginal dryness, irregular periods and problems sleeping. Menopause is usually only diagnosed when a woman hasn’t had a period for over twelve months. There are cases where these normal signs won’t be relevant with premature menopause diagnoses, though. This means you may have to have a blood test which measures the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) which can determine if you’re going through a premature menopause. Your ovaries use this hormone to produce oestrogen, so when they stop making this your FSH levels rise. If your levels of this hormone are higher than normal, it’s likely that you’ll be diagnosed with premature menopause. There are many resources available to offer advice on this topic, as well as your GP being your first port of call for any questions you may have. Women going through the menopause can take hormone replacement therapies to combat the effects of a lowered hormone production, as well as ways to resolve issues with your sex drive. Speak to your GP if you would like to discuss medication and treatments to help you through this stage.