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Early Menopause

MenopauseMay 26, 2004

Okay, to put it as simply as possible, early menopause is menopause that comes well before the average age of normal menopause - when you’re still in your 20s, 30s, or early 40s. But to really understand what early menopause is, first you have to understand what menopause itself is.  And it’s pretty simple:  Menopause is technically the stop (pause) of your periods (menses).  Your periods stop because your ovaries have run out of eggs, have been damaged, or have been surgically removed.

Before your periods stop, you go through a transition period called perimenopause - this can last on average from two to six years, although some women have it for a shorter amount of time, and others longer.  And once your periods have stopped for six months to a year, you’re considered as being in menopause.

The average age for women to have completed menopause is age 51 - which means that most women go through this change between the ages of 47 and 53.  So if you go through menopause before this - for whatever reason - you’ve experienced premature or early menopause.

Premature menopause is menopause that occurs before age 40; early menopause is menopause that occurs in the early 40s. If premature menopause occurs naturally - that is, if you haven’t had surgery, radiation treatment or chemotherapy that led to menopause - it
is often referred to as Premature Ovarian Failure (POF).  This sounds devastating.  But basically, all it means is that your ovaries aren’t working as they should.  They’re shutting down years, even decades, before their time.

If early menopause is a result of surgery or cancer treatments, you’re facing the same situation, just for different reasons. In other words then, early menopause, no matter what the cause, means one simple thing:  your reproductive system is no longer working the
way it used to.  Your body is switching from being reproductive to being non-reproductive.

Premature Menopause

Believe it or not, many books (and doctors) are a bit vague on the topic. You learn that you have premature menopause, then it’s onto a discussion of hormone replacement therapy, and that’s it. But you can’t make decisions about hormones, or anything else for that matter, if you’re not clear about what is going on with your body.

So what is premature menopause? Here’s the obvious answer: premature menopause is menopause that occurs prematurely. But, of course, there’s a little more to it than that.

Put simply, menopause is the cessation (pause) of your periods (menses). Your periods stop because your ovaries have run out of eggs, have been damaged, or have been surgically removed. You’re technically considered in menopause after you haven’t had a period for six months to a year. The transition period, when you begin going through the symptoms of menopause (irregular periods, hot flashes, mood swings, changes in hormone levels, and so forth), is called perimenopause, and usually lasts about six years, although some women have symptoms for only one year and others have them for ten years or more. Most people, though, use the word “menopause” to include the entire process leading up to and including menopause, and I’ll do the same throughout this book.

The average age for women to have completed menopause is age 51, which means that most women go through this change between the ages of 47 and 53. Premature menopause then, applies to those women who go through menopause well before these average ages. It is technically defined as going through menopause before the age of 40, which means that, if you’re diagnosed with premature menopause, there is a very good chance that you’ve been having menopausal symptoms well before you hit 40. To complicate matters a bit, some women go through menopause a little earlier than the average, say in their early forties. This is often called early menopause. It’s not a clinical term, because their menopause is still considered within the “normal” age range. But to some degree, these women who go through early menopause often share emotional fallout similar to those of us with premature menopause.

If premature menopause occurs spontaneously-that is, if you haven’t had surgery, radiation treatment, or chemotherapy that led to menopause-it is often referred to as premature ovarian failure (POF). This sounds devastating, but basically all it means is that your ovaries aren’t working as they should. They’re shutting down years, even decades, before their time. If premature menopause is a result of surgery of cancer treatments, you’re facing the same situation, but for different reasons.

In other words then, premature menopause, no matter what the cause, means one simple thing: your reproductive system is no longer working the way it used to. Your body is switching from being reproductive to being nonreproductive. In effect, you’ve fast-forwarded to the age of 50 or so. This, in turn, affects your entire body, not to mention your psyche.

Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: July 6, 2011
Last revised: by Amalia K. Gagarina, M.S., R.D.

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