Early menopause: part I

Posted by on Jun 15, 2009 in Early menopause | 4 comments

I received a request to do some posts on early menopause. But what is early menopause anyhow? And how is it different than premature menopause?

Early menopause, as defined by several reputable societies, refers to menopause that occurs between the ages of 40 and 45. It is typically caused by one of three factors:

  • An earlier than normal decline in production of ovarian hormones, namely, estrogen (also called ovarian failure)
  • Surgical removal of the ovaries
  • Chemotherapy

While the symptoms of early menopause are similar to that of menopause after age 45, they may be more severe.

Premature menopause, on the other hand, refers to menopause that occurs before age 40.

Factors that influence the timing of menopause include genetics/heredity, smoking and of course, hormones. In fact, in study published last week in Publish Ahead of Print issue of Menopause, researchers found that the likelihood of both entering menopause and moving through each stage significantly increased with increases in the levels of follicular stimulating hormone (FSH) levels and declines in the levels of inhibin B (which, in studies, have been linked with a declining reserve of follicles). What’s more, current smokers had an increased 30% greater odds of moving through each menopausal stage.

In a second study, presented in May at the European Society of Human Genetics Conference, researchers reported data from over 10,000 post-menopausal women demonstrating that gene mutations are responsible for regulating the timing of ovarian aging and age of menopause. More specifically, for every mutation in DNA found on chromosomes 19 and 20, almost a year and half year’s increased risk for earlier menopause, respectively, was found. Although the researchers say that more research is needed, identification may lead to better screening tools, not only to plan pregnancy (but also to potentially devise a strategy to address menopausal symptoms in a timely fashion).

Okay, so your doctor has informed you that you are going through early menopause. And your symptoms are severe. What can you do?

The advice for dealing with symptoms of early menopause are no different than dealing with symptoms of regular menopause – do your research, speak to a reputable, licensed health practitioner and take charge. Flashfree is a great source for discussions surrounding the evidence for or against the use of various alternative approaches for dealing with hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, depression, irritability, weight gain, heart disease and breast cancer risks, stress and midlife in general. If you prefer, HRT is always available and your gynecologist, nurse practitioner or internist can provide you with advice and guidance.

On a less positive note, early menopause has been linked to increased risk for certain conditions, including stroke, heart disease and osteoporosis. I’ll be addressing these directly in Wednesday’s Bubble.  In the interim, I encourage you to peruse the site and the provided links. And I hope that you’ll feel comfortable sharing some of the steps you’ve taken to deal with this issue, not only on the physical front but also on the emotional.

4 Comments

  1. 6-17-2009

    oh boy, I must say that dealing with all the symptoms is a cake walk compared to acceptance of early menopause. What a double whammy, finding out I’m getting this early and then to discover I’m more prone to heart disease and other health conditions. It’s funny but my doctor prescribed birth control pills, so I’m wondering why he did so, if early menopause is at high risk for stroke/heart disease (though it is a low dosage pill). I will need to ask him. I know I don’t smoke, nor am I overweight, perhaps that is why.

    • 6-17-2009

      Lisa – can’t comment on your practitioner’s motivations and it’s wonderful to contact him and have a dialogue. In the interim, an increased risk is not a death sentence but rather, a great wake up call to start taking positive steps for disease prevention.

  2. 7-12-2009

    From what I’ve read, early or premature menopause is, in fact, different from natural menopause. Taking hormones up to the age of natural menopause can actually be healthy, especially with respect to bone and heart health. Of course, one should consult a specialist in this area, but, HRT does not appear to have the same risks for women who experience early or premature menopause, as it does for those who experience it naturally. For more information, on early or premature menopause, check out the web site: http://www.menopause.org/edumaterials/earlyguidebook.aspx

    • 7-13-2009

      Emily – thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, NAMS, while reputable, is very much anti-alternative and pro-HRT. Data have specifically and definitively linked health concerns/risks to length of time on hormones. I urge you to read as much as you can before adopting any one opinion as the gospel. Thanks again and best.

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