Are you experiencing early menopause?
Despite it being an experience that most women will go through at some point in their lives, we tend not to think about menopause in our twenties or thirties, but what happens when it occurs much earlier than you may expect? While premature or early menopause is relatively uncommon, it does happen. Therefore, it’s crucial to spot the signs of early menopause and seek the appropriate treatment as soon as possible.
Typically, the menopause starts between the age of 45 and 55. Therefore, any menopausal symptoms experienced before this age are deemed as ‘early’ and can be a bit of a surprise.
If you’re worried you may be experiencing the menopause early, this is everything you need to know and the signs to look out for.
Why does early menopause occur?
There are two reasons for women to experience early menopause. It can be the result of surgery, e.g., hysterectomy or illness, or as the result of chemotherapy, or it can happen naturally. Women under forty with early menopause are usually termed as having premature ovarian insufficiency. This occurs when your ovaries no longer produce normal amounts of oestrogen and therefore may not produce eggs. This causes your periods to either stop or become irregular, and you may experience the symptoms of menopause.
What are the signs?
Missed or irregular periods
This is the most significant sign of early menopause. Your periods may have become irregular, or lighter, or heavier, than usual. They may have even stopped altogether. Unless there’s a viable explanation for the change (e.g. pregnancy), this is almost a sure sign of early menopause.
Loss of libido
A declining sex drive can indicate early menopause due to changing hormone levels, particularly oestrogen and testosterone. Women with low libido in menopause have also been found to be more likely to experience night sweats and problems sleeping.
Hot flushes are a common menopausal symptom. They’re described as a sudden, uncomfortable feeling of heat that spreads through the body and – typically experienced in the months leading up to a woman’s menopause – they often indicate that your menopause has started.
Mood changes and irritability
The hormones associated with ovulation are also responsible for releasing a chemical called serotonin. Serotonin regulates our mood and, as levels start to decline, you may begin to feel anxious and irritable. If you’re regularly feeling low or depressed, don’t ignore it. Make an appointment to see your GP.
As oestrogen levels dip, moisture on the vaginal walls decreases and they can become very thin and sensitive. If you’re experiencing vaginal dryness or you have started to feel discomfort or pain during sex, this could be an early menopause symptom, and it’s essential to get it checked out.
Is early menopause dangerous?
Since oestrogen is such a crucial hormone, having suboptimal levels for too long can lead to complications later in life such as osteoporosis, heart disease, and dementia, so early diagnosis of premature menopause symptoms is so important.
Menopause can be determined by a blood test to measure levels of particular hormones. Once you’ve received your diagnosis, your doctor will discuss hormone replacement therapy, a therapy that replaces our body’s oestrogen levels with a chemically identical alternative. There are various types of hormone therapy, some of which are only available privately, so it’s well worth doing your research to determine which is right for you.
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Disclaimer: Please be aware that results and benefits may vary from patient to patient taking into consideration factors such as age, lifestyle and medical history.