Widely known as the “change of life”, menopause is that stage of a woman’s life when her ovaries and the rest of her reproductive system gradually begin to reduce their functions. It is a normal condition all women experience as they grow older. It is characterised by a lot of physical and emotional changes that tend to occur just before or after she stops having a menstrual cycle, thus ending her reproductive abilities.
In addition to dealing with troublesome issues like mood swings, hot flushes, irritability and other symptoms that accompany the menopause, most women experiencing a premature menopause have to cope with additional physical and emotional concerns. Particularly the issue of having a baby since this indicates the end of a woman’s fertile period, a woman who still desires to reproduce would likely have quite a lot of emotional issues to contend with.
Premature menopause can be a big blow for women who have not had a chance to bear children yet. There is even a documented case of a woman who entered menopause at the age of 17!
What Causes Premature Menopause?
A woman is born with a set number of eggs contained in the ovaries. These ovaries produce oestrogen and progesterone, two hormones that control ovulation and menstruation. Once the ovaries no longer release an egg every month menstruation stops and menopause happens. Averagely this change starts at about 50 years of age but would have gradually started building up from about the mid-40s.
Normally, if menopause happens after the age of 40, it is considered as a bit early but normal. Where it happens before 40 however, it is classified as premature menopause.
Premature menopause is usually brought on by one or more factors:
- Damage to the ovaries: caused by Chemotherapy to arrest cancerous growth
- Medical procedures: like hysterectomy, to remove all or part of the uterus and even the fallopian tubes and ovaries in some cases. Other reasons why such would be needed would be in cases of uterine cancer, aggressive fibroids, or endometriosis.
- Premature Ovarian Failure (POF): this occurs when the ovaries, for unknown reasons, prematurely stops releasing eggs. Surprisingly, malaria and chickenpox have also been remotely linked to causing POF.
- Autoimmune disorders: where your defense mechanisms begin producing antibodies that eventually destroy its own tissues. You need to be particularly mindful of this if someone in your family has had this problem in the past.
How do I know if I am experiencing premature menopause?
If you are under 40 and are experiencing two or more of the following, chances are you are experiencing premature menopause:
- Irregular or skipped periods
- Periods that are heavier or lighter than usual
- Hot flushes characterized by a feeling of warmth that comes suddenly, and spreads over the upper part of the body.
- Sudden mood swings and irritability
- Unexplained fatigue
- Vaginal dryness
- Dip in sex drive
- Problems with bladder control
- Racing heart
- If you find you are unable to conceive after trying for at least a year.
A visit to the doctor should be able to quickly confirm if you are truly experiencing premature menopause after the relevant tests have been carried out.
Apart from the most obvious effect of premature menopause which would be infertility, there are other health risks that come associated with it you need to be aware of. These include heart disease, weakening of the bones, wrinkling of the skin due to reduced elasticity, reduced bladder and bowel control, and in some cases drop in vision quality.
The underlying cause of the premature menopause would determine if it can be treated or not. The sad truth is that in most cases, once the process has started it is almost irreversible.
The most common source of treatment is Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). These are basically medicines that contain the female hormones the body is no longer making. However, recent findings show risks of stroke, breast cancer and heart disease with users of HRT. You should definitely avoid it if you have a history of stroke or blood clots in the legs.
The health risks, symptoms and emotional issues associated with premature menopause make for a situation that could lead to depression if not properly managed. Ensure you speak to your doctor on time if you have reason to believe you are going through this.