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How does early menopause affect the body?

Depression is no different during menopause than any other time, but lack of sleep or increased anxiety during menopause can cause emotional issues that can lead to depression. Many issues are part of menopause, including significant hormone changes. These hormone changes can increase mood swings and anxiety. Most women who experience depression at menopause will have had depression previously, but for some women it will be their first bout with depression. It is important to talk with your doctor about any significant changes in emotional stability or quality of life. Treatment options are available to help.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Menopause that occurs before the age of 45 is considered early menopause. It can happen naturally, because the ovaries have been surgically removed, or if cancer treatments have destroyed the ovarian tissue. It can also happen because of diseases such as premature ovarian failure (POF), autoimmune disease or a hormonal imbalance.

During menopause the body stops making estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen can wane gradually or stop abruptly. In either case, the body is deprived of estrogen and this is what causes a lot of the symptoms women experience during menopause. But estrogen plays a huge role in the body, affecting almost every system—the skin, bones, blood vessels, brain, and reproductive and urinary organs. When estrogen isn't available, bones lose density, making them more prone to osteoporosis and fractures. Estrogen loss may also cause problems with sex, mood and thinking. Talk to your doctor about coping with the symptoms and risks of early menopause.

Unfortunately, yes. Before menopause, estrogen preserves bone density by protecting the cells in charge of building up bones. Without estrogen as your bone bodyguard, you end up losing bone, which puts you at a higher risk for falls, fractures and osteoporosis. The longer bone is deprived of estrogen, the greater the bone loss unless a woman takes estrogen replacement, other bone-conserving medications, or exercises and eats well (avoiding the five food felons and ensuring she gets enough calcium with vitamin D3 and magnesium).

If menopause occurs prior to the age of 45, this group of women will experience an increased risk of bone loss and an increase in the chance of fractures. Early menopause can be caused from natural early menopause or surgical menopause from the surgical removal of ovaries. Also, some cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation can lead to bone loss and eventually osteoporosis. If menopause occurs prior to the age of 45, there is an increased risk of bone loss and the chance of fractures.

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Boston Women's Health Book Collective
Administration Specialist

Those of us who experience early menopause may feel a more negative effect on their body image and attitudes than women who go through menopause at the usual age. If we have had our ovaries surgically removed, there is no period of gradual physical or emotional adjustment, and we may feel an abrupt sense of loss. Those of us whose early menopause is due to cancer treatments sometimes report little change in their body image. Still others who are cancer survivors with early menopause talk of the paradox and ambiguity of "experiencing a different body" yet not fitting the description of the average menopausal woman. For some of us, survival issues take precedence over the confrontation of age and menopause.

Many women discover that they are in early menopause because they are unable to become pregnant. While some women are relieved they no longer have to worry about pregnancy, for most, the single most devastating part of early menopause is losing the ability to give birth. This can affect women even if they already have children.

Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause

More About this Book

Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause

FROM THE EDITORS OF THE CLASSIC "BIBLE OF WOMEN'S HEALTH," A TRUSTWORTHY, UP-TO-DATE GUIDE TO HELP EVERY WOMAN NAVIGATE THE MENOPAUSE TRANSITION For decades, millions of women have relied on Our...
Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Women who experience early menopause have an increased risk of heart disease. With the early loss of estrogen, the risk of heart disease increases because of the way estrogen affects cholesterol. Pay special attention to risk factors. If you have experienced early menopause, talk to your doctor about solutions to improved heart health.

Mrs. Marjorie Nolan Cohn
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

The onset of perimenopause and eventually menopause itself signal great changes in your physical and emotional life. Though some women experience few symptoms, if you’re like the vast majority, you may have noticed the incremental shifts that come on for months and years before menopause sets in. These physical changes are often accompanied by psychological ones as you confront the realities of aging and try to deal with the mood shifts that often come along with hormonal change and hormonal imbalance. Because hormones are off kilter, you may be more susceptible to depression, fatigue, moodiness, and food cravings. Unfortunately, these side effects are some of the more potent triggers for binge eating and/or other types of emotional or compulsive eating which lead to weight gain and more depression.

Mia Lundin
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

The root of your symptoms revolves around the dance between your female hormones and brain chemistry during hormonal shifts throughout your life. Your hormones and neurotransmitters, as chemical messengers, relay vital instructions throughout you entire body. Hormones are like the big-shot directors on a movie set telling the cells—who are like the actors with different important function to act out—what they need to do. Each cell responds by playing her part in the making of a seamless, hopefully engaging Lifetime movie. As hormones travel throughout the body and brain, they direct the cells to work faster or slower to perform their particular functions. All of our hormones are designed to work as an ensemble, to perform in harmony with each other as well as with nature’s circadian rhythms, night and day cycles, and seasons. When they do not execute their particular tasks or operate below par, things start to unravel and we can feel it.

While many people associate mood problems with menopause, there is actually no evidence that menopause increases the risk of depression. Transient mood fluctuations may accompany hormonal fluctuations, but for most women there is no increase in clinical depression. Researchers have found a higher association with depressive symptoms for women who have early menopause, though, and for those who suffered clinical depression in the past. Mood swings associated with hormonal changes are more common in women who had suffered severe PMS symptoms in their youth.

For some women, mood changes may occur due to lack of sleep. Hot flashes and night sweats can interfere with getting a good night's sleep. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or diet change can reduce or eliminate disruptive symptoms and result in improved mood and sleep.

For many women, menopause is a time of improved satisfaction and feelings of well being. For others, however, menopause can coincide with a time in their lives that is stressful already:

  • children leaving home
  • midlife changes in career and relationships
  • caring for aging parents or other close relatives

Whether or not you are going through menopause, if you have symptoms of depression that concern you, contact your primary healthcare practitioner or other medical professional for an evaluation. There are many excellent treatments, medications, and lifestyle changes that can help.

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Patricia Geraghty, NP
Women's Health

There is a new understanding of depression in the menopause transition. Most women who experience depression at this time of life have had an episode of depression in the past. Less commonly, depression can be a new concern for the woman. The symptoms of depression in menopause are the same as at other ages, but often have typical menopause symptoms such as hot flashes and sleeping problems at the same time. The first line of treatment is also the same as at other ages, anti-depressant medications and counseling. Adding estrogen therapy can sometimes enhance the effectiveness of other treatments.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.