What Are the Signs of Early Menopause?
Menopause is a natural part of getting older. Generally, menopause happens when a woman is in her 50s, but it is possible to start menopause earlier than anticipated. Read further to learn about signs of early menopause.
What is Early Menopause?
Menopause is a normal part of aging. A woman is in menopause after she has her last period. After 12 months without a period (and without another medical explanation for not having a period), menopause can be confirmed. In menopause, a woman has lower levels of hormones, such as estrogen, and fertility is generally no longer possible.
Usually, menopause happens when a woman reaches her early to mid-50s. When menopause starts before the age of 40, it is considered premature menopause. Between the ages of 40 and 45 is considered early menopause. Early menopause affects about 5% of women.
Stages of Early Menopause
Women in early menopause experience the same stages as women who have menopause in their 50s.
This is the phase that happens before menopause. This phase can start up to 10 years before menopause begins. In preparation for menopause, your body makes fewer hormones—leading to fluctuations in hormone levels, such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. On average, perimenopause lasts for four years.
It begins once a woman’s period permanently stops and their ovaries no longer release eggs. Minimal estrogen is produced during menopause.
This happens after menopause and the body recalibrates to the new normal. Menopausal symptoms may start to fade away, but they can continue for several more years, making symptom management essential.
Causes of Early Menopause
Early menopause may start spontaneously without any medical reason or it can be the result of a few factors:
- Chemotherapy patients may experience loss of eggs or damage to ovarian tissue that prompts menopause to begin early.
- Surgical menopause happens when the ovaries are surgically removed. Without the ovaries to produce hormones or release eggs, the body goes into menopause.
- Certain medical conditions, including autoimmune diseases, may cause early menopause.
- A family history of early menopause increases the chance that you will start menopause early as well.
- Smoking is linked to the earlier onset of menopause.
Early Menopause Symptoms
Perimenopause may start without you even realizing it. Each woman who experiences early menopause has distinct symptoms at varying degrees of severity. Once early menopause begins, you will start experiencing symptoms which may include:
- Changes in menstrual periods or skipping periods that stop when menopause begins.
- Hot flashes are the most common symptom. Lasting one to five minutes, hot flashes can come with sweating (including night sweats), reddening of the skin, and increased heartbeat.
- Cold chills following a hot flash.
- Dry and thin vaginal tissue.
- Urinary issues, such as urgency to urinate or more urinary tract infections.
- Other changes caused by a change in hormone levels include difficulty sleeping, emotional changes, breast tenderness, changes in sexual desire, headaches/trouble concentrating, and low energy.
Menopause and pelvic floor dysfunction are often related and it is important to know the symptoms of each. Learn more here.
Menopause does not require medical treatment, however, there are some options for managing your symptoms. Optional treatments may include:
This is a short-term and effective solution that releases a small number of hormones to the body. Taking medication to boost your estrogen may help relieve hot flashes. This treatment should not be used long term as it risks causing cardiovascular issues and breast cancer. Vaginal estrogen comes as a vaginal cream, tablet, or ring, and is used to relieve vaginal dryness.
These are prescribed by your doctor, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. They may lessen hot flashes.
Other Prescription Medications
This option may provide relief. Gabapentin typically treats seizures but also reduces hot flashes in women going through menopause. Clonidine, which treats high blood pressure, also minimizes hot flashes.
This is not a medical treatment but is suggested to decrease the intensity of a hot flash. Drink a cold glass of water, find a cooler area, and dress in layers so you can remove them as needed.
This is either water-based or silicone-based to decrease discomfort caused by vaginal dryness.
Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor
These types of exercises are often called Kegel exercises. They help to improve urinary incontinence.
Give your body what it needs. Try to get more sleep, as this may diminish irritability. Avoid caffeine or too much alcohol, as these beverages hinder the quality of sleep. Exercise during the day to get your blood pumping and release feel-good hormones.
These are estrogens that occur naturally in plants. You will find them in legumes, whole grains, flaxseed, and some fruits and vegetables. Plant estrogens for relief of hot flashes have not yet been proven by the medical community but may help you feel better by eating healthier. Sage also contains compounds that mimic the effects of estrogen, and there is compelling evidence supporting its ability to manage menopausal symptoms.
These include relaxation techniques, such as guided meditation or massage, or treatments like acupuncture and hypnotherapy.
How to Avoid Early Menopause
Early menopause is not something you can control, especially if it happens spontaneously. The best you can do is take care of your body and give it what it needs to be healthy: eat a balanced diet with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, stop smoking, exercise regularly, get enough quality sleep each night, and address any underlying health issues. When you begin to experience early menopause symptoms, manage hot flashes and other symptoms with methods that work best for you.
Starting menopause in your 40s may not be ideal, but if you have treatment options to manage your symptoms, getting through early menopause becomes easier.