Did you think you wouldn't have to worry about going through menopause until around your 50th birthday, but now find yourself wondering “am I going through early menopause”? For some women, early and even premature menopause is an unfortunate reality and their bodies can start going through "the change" long before they blow out their 50th birthday candles.
If you’ve been feeling a little different lately and have noticed some strange symptoms like hot flushes, vaginal dryness, or mood swings, you might be wondering if you fall into the early or premature menopause category.
In this article, we’ll attempt to help you find an answer to the question “am I going through early menopause?” and will also help you find out how to diagnose early menopause by recognising its symptoms. As with most conditions, being diagnosed and knowing what you have can be quite empowering and help you find the right course of treatment for you.
Menopause 101: What You Need to Know to Understand Your Symptoms
You’ve heard this word before and know that it usually happens to women of a certain age, but what exactly is menopause? The word “menopause” means the end of menstruation and marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years. It occurs once the ovaries cease to produce eggs, which then causes oestrogen levels to drop. Oestrogen is a vital sex hormone required to control your reproductive system.
There are 3 stages of menopause, which are:
- Perimenopause: the time leading up to menopause in which your body gradually transitions.
- Menopause: the official point of menopause after the transition is complete
- Post-menopause: the time after menopause when symptoms decrease dramatically or go away completely
What Is Early Menopause?
For the average woman, menopause usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. For others, the reality is quite different and they can start to experience symptoms much earlier and either go through early menopause or premature menopause.
But, what is the difference between early menopause and premature menopause? Early menopause is when a woman goes through menopause before the age of 45, while premature menopause occurs before a woman turns 40. Premature menopause occurs in 1% of women and is associated with oestrogen deficiency, elevated gonadotrophin levels, and amenorrhea. (2)
What Causes Early Menopause?
Early and premature menopause can be caused by anything that stops your body from producing oestrogen or damages your ovaries.
Damage to the ovaries can be caused by:
Going through chemotherapy to treat cancer (2)
- An oophorectomy, which is a removal of the ovaries. Oophorectomies are often performed on women who have ectopic pregnancies, ovarian cysts, ovarian cancer or just cancerous cells in the ovaries, or abscesses. They can be performed on just one of the ovaries (unilateral oophorectomy) or both (bilateral oophorectomy). Some women need to get hysterectomies at a young age due to problems like uterine fibroids, endometriosis, severe pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), adenomyosis, endometrial hyperplasia, and uterine prolapse. If the doctor removes only the uterus but leaves the ovaries, the woman’s body can still continue to produce reproductive hormones as usual, but if they remove the uterus and the ovaries, it can trigger early menopause as the woman no longer has ovaries to produce important sex hormones. This is why many doctors choose to leave the ovaries if a hysterectomy is required and the woman is below a certain age. (1, 2, 3)
- Chromosomal problems like Turner syndrome, which is a chromosomal issue where a woman is born with an incomplete chromosome. It results in ovaries that don’t work as they should. Women with Turner syndrome often go into early or premature menopause. Treatment usually requires hormone replacement therapy. Fragile X syndrome is another chromosomal condition that can trigger early or premature menopause. (2)
- Epilepsy, a disorder that starts in the brain that causes seizures. Women with epilepsy often have primary ovarian insufficiency, which can lead to early menopause. One study found that 14% of women with epilepsy experience early menopause. (4)
Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and thyroid disease can also send you into early menopause. With an autoimmune disease, your body thinks that part of your body is an invader and it then launches an attack. With some autoimmune diseases, the ovaries can also be affected and become inflamed, which can lead to premature or early menopause. (2)
Other things that can interfere with oestrogen production and trigger premature or early menopause include:
- Smoking tobacco products (women who smoke can start menopause 1 to 2 years before women who don’t) (5)
- Having a low body weight and body fat percentage. Since oestrogen is stored in your fat cells, if you don’t have enough fat in your body, you’ll have less oestrogen stored, and your levels of this hormone can become depleted. (6)
- Being on a vegan or vegetarian diet. (7)
- Being on a low-fat diet. The body needs fat, particularly saturated fats and cholesterol, to produce sex hormones like testosterone and oestrogen. If you’ve limited or eliminated saturated fat and cholesterol from your diet, you won’t give your body what it needs to produce enough oestrogen. If you deprive your body for long enough, you can trigger premature or early menopause due to a lack of oestrogen. If optimal hormonal health is what you want, it's important to ensure you get enough cholesterol and fat in your diet from quality sources like egg yolks, grass-fed beef, full-fat dairy products, and organ meats like liver and kidney. (8, 9)
- Getting a lack of sunlight and vitamin D foods. Women with higher levels of vitamin D (which can be obtained by eating foods such as egg yolks, oily fish, liver, and cod liver oil, and also by spending time in the sun) have a lower risk of entering early menopause — a 17% reduced risk, in fact. (10)
It's important to note that sometimes, doctors might not be able to diagnose the root cause in a patient but they can at least provide treatment if that is what’s necessary.
If any of the causes mentioned above are things that you’ve experienced or you fit any of the criteria mentioned above, and you experience any of the premature or early menopause symptoms that we explore below, you have a chance of being in early menopause and need to consult your medical professional.
What Are the Symptoms of Early Menopause? Find Out If You’re Going Through Early MenopauseSo, if you’re younger than 45, how do you know if you might be going through early or premature menopause? Here are the symptoms you need to look out for:
- Irregular periods
- Periods that are shorter or longer than what you usually experience
- Heavy bleeding
- Longer stretches of time between your periods
- Night sweats
- Hot flushes
- Vaginal dryness
- Painful intercourse
- Urinary problems like increased frequency and urgency, atrophic cystitis, and incontinence
- Sleep disturbances
- Depression, anxiety, mood swings, and irritability
- Joint pain
- Hair loss
- Brittle nails
- Difficulty focusing and concentrating
Skin atrophy (the thinning and degeneration of the dermis and epidermis) (1, 2)
Every woman's experience of perimenopause and menopause will be different, but these are the most common symptoms.
If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above and you suspect you might be in early or premature menopause, it's a good idea to seek medical assistance as soon as possible, so a doctor can diagnose you. You don't want to wait until after a year of not getting your period to hear that menopause is complete, as seeking medical help earlier can help you get the assistance, advice, and possible treatment you need to manage your symptoms, give your body the support it needs, and improve your quality of life.
How to Diagnose Early Menopause: Get the Definitive Answer
If you want a final answer to the question “am I going through early menopause?”, you need help from a doctor. Even though you can get a good idea if this is the case based on your symptoms and the information we shared above, this is not something you should try to self-diagnose and address without speaking to a medical professional.
Your doctor will assess your symptoms and test your hormones to diagnose if you are, in fact, in premature or early menopause. The hormones that doctors will typically test to diagnose early menopause include:
- Oestrogen (also referred to as oestradiol) — since oestrogen levels decrease in menopause, your doctor will test your oestrogen levels to help determine if they are low.
- Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) — Your doctor will also test for elevated FSH levels to help them diagnose you. If you haven't had your period in over a year and have FSH levels above 30 mIU/mL on a consistent basis, chances are that you are in menopause. But this means that you'll need to test your FSH levels frequently. (11, 12)
- Anti-müllerian hormone (AMH) — Testing this hormone can give you an indication of whether you are heading for menopause or help a doctor diagnose if you’ve already gone through menopause. (13, 14, 15, 16)
- Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) — Since symptoms of hypothyrodism (an underactive thyroid) are often similar to menopause symptoms, your doctor will usually test your TSH levels to see if they are too high. While you can have hypothyroidism without being in early or premature menopause, they sometimes go hand-in-hand and both could be the case. (2)
How Is Early Menopause Treated?
So, if the answer to the question “am I going through early menopause?” is yes, what now? How are these conditions treated?
Early menopause usually doesn’t have to be treated, but there are things you can do to manage your symptoms and make your transition into menopause easier, such as exercising regularly, drinking enough water, and following a healthy diet that’s low in sugar and processed foods. Some doctors will still prescribe hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to patients who are going through early menopause or menopause to help ease their symptoms, even though treatment isn’t necessary.
If you are going through premature menopause, on the other hand, your doctor will usually provide treatment since you are so young. Treatment is usually in the form of hormone replacement therapy. The goal with treatment is to provide your body with the hormones it needs until you reach the age where most women enter menopause. (17)
You get different types of hormone replacement therapy, they are:
- Systemic Hormone Therapy: Where you get oestrogen (and sometimes also progesterone) in the form of a pill, skin patch, gel, ring, spray, or cream. These usually contain hormones in higher doses.
- Vaginal Hormone Therapy: Where you get oestrogen (and often progesterone) administered vaginally through vaginal creams or tablets, or a vaginal ring. These usually provide lower doses of hormones.
Speak to your doctor about your treatment options, as well as the possibility of going on hormone replacement therapy. They will be able to help you weigh up the pros and cons of this course of treatment.
A Natural Solution for Menopause Symptoms
If you are suffering from any of the symptoms mentioned above, you can use natural supplements to recover the quality of life you lost. We have various products that can support your body while going through premature or early menopause, as well as menopause, including:
- Hormone Harmony, which can help ease symptoms of hormonal imbalance, boost energy, and reduce any mood swings, stress and irritability.
Deep Sleep Mode, which can boost melatonin production and promote quality sleep, thereby providing relief from sleep disturbances that are caused by menopause.
We’re here to help you feel like your best self at every stage in your life!
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