Posted: Sep 04, 2013 10:00 AM
We don't expect to think much about menopause until we're at least in our 50s, right? But for some women, menopause comes early — way early. Why does this happen, and what are the latest medical recommendations?

Menopause? Not a "hot" topic of conversation among most young women and their friends at Bunco night or during the kindergarten class party. While most of us think menopause is something to think about in our 50s, for a number of young women it quickly becomes the biggest thing on their minds. Early menopause can happen for several reasons — and it helps to be aware.

What is menopause, anyway?

According to the National Institutes of Health, menopause is the "… time in a woman's life when her periods (menstruation) eventually stop and the body goes through changes that no longer allow her to get pregnant. It is a natural event that normally occurs in women age 45 to 55." So clearly, it's not always an older-woman thing. Menopause is considered complete when your period has been absent for one full year — and then you are considered postmenopausal. Sounds fun, right? Postmenopausal women can no longer get pregnant, which can be a coveted side effect for many women, yet devastating for others.

How do we plan ahead?

Contrary to what many people think, you don't technically hit menopause until you've been period-free for 12 consecutive months.

Ellen Dolgen is a women's health and wellness advocate, menopause awareness expert, author and speaker. "Women are big planners, but unfortunately when it comes to menopause you will not receive a 'Hold the Date' notice so that you can schedule its arrival on your calendar! Menopause arrives unscheduled, uninvited and often sooner than you'd think," she shares. The average age of menopause is 51 — however, Ellen shares that many women experience early menopause even before the age of 45. "Contrary to what many people think, you don't technically hit menopause until you've been period-free for 12 consecutive months," shares Dolgen.

Causes of early menopause

Menopause may be a naturally occurring event, can be triggered by certain medical treatments or can be a result of surgery (like hysterectomy or removal of ovaries). Many times, the exact reason for early menopause cannot be determined. Dr. Jenny Jaque is an obstetrician-gynecologist practicing in academic medicine and co-founder of Health Goes Female. She shares a few reasons why a woman may enter early menopause.

A few identified causes are^

  • Problems with genes — genetic mutations
  • Cancer treatments — certain chemotherapies and radiation may cause ovaries to stop functioning
  • Autoimmune diseases, where your immune system attacks your ovaries

Symptoms to watch for

Usually, the first clue of early menopause is changes in your periods, which may mean lighter than normal or that they stop altogether. Dr. Jaque recommends that you make an appointment with your physician if you are younger than 40 and your periods have been irregular for at least three months.

possible symptoms you might experience^

  • Hot flashes — sudden heat waves that begin in your chest and face and then move throughout your body
  • Sweating at night
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Trouble sleeping or insomnia

What do I do?

Reaching out is in! Suffering in silence is out!

"Do not panic — you are not alone! Start by finding a menopause specialist," shares Dolgen. "This may not be the doctor that delivered your babies. Ask your doctor about ordering the proper blood tests (e.g. estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, thyroid and an adrenal function). Your blood work is half the story — your symptoms are the other half! All of this information will help your specialist develop an individualized program just for you," she shares. "Menopause is not like off-the-rack clothing. It's not ready to wear, but rather custom made!"

If you think you may be headed into early menopause, consult with your doctor and take charge of your health. "Most importantly remember my motto: Reaching out is in! Suffering in silence is out!" adds Dolgen.


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