What is early menopause?

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Early menopause occurs when a woman stops having periods, permanently, before she blows out the candles on her 40th birthday cake. This condition affects about 5 percent of women in their early 40s. The reasons are not well-known, and sometimes even doctors cannot identify the reason.

Normally, a woman's ovaries begin to slow down as she reaches her late 30s. However, the ovaries usually don't stop producing eggs and estrogen—resulting in menopause—for another decade or so. The average woman in the United States reaches menopause at about age 51.

There are a number of reasons why a woman might experience early menopause. One common cause is surgical removal of the ovaries. This procedure may be performed to treat or lower the risk for certain types of cancer, among other reasons. Surgical removal of the ovaries results in the immediate onset of menopause.

Other medical treatments (such as chemotherapy and radiation) and diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis) can damage the ovaries of a young woman, resulting in early menopause. However, some women simply enter this stage of life prematurely for no obvious reason. If your mother entered menopause early, you may too. Studies show that this phenomenon runs in families.

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Sometimes, our ovaries stop working before age 40, putting us into what is known as early natural menopause. The medical term for this is premature ovarian failure. Just as when it happens later in life, early menopause leads to lower estrogen levels and irregular menstruation, which is usually the first sign of early natural menopause that a woman may notice. We don't always know why a woman's ovaries have stopped functioning at an early age, but some causes have been identified and include autoimmune disorders, genetic irregularities or a family history, and viral infections.

Early menopause carries a distinctive set of physical and emotional concerns. There can be confusion caused by the sometimes vague and unexpected physical changes that accompany early menopause that is not prompted by surgery or medical treatment. Healthcare providers don't usually consider the diagnosis of menopause for women under forty.

Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause

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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...

Although the average age for menopause in the United States is 51, some women experience it later or earlier. Early menopause is defined as occurring at any age younger than age 45. Menopause that occurs in women younger than 40 is called premature menopause or premature ovarian failure and can occur naturally. But symptoms of premature menopause, such as irregular periods, may signal an underlying condition, so it is important to discuss any symptoms with your healthcare professional.

What influences the time of menopause? Genetics are a key factor. The age at which your mother stopped her periods may be similar to when you stop your menstrual periods. And women who smoke cigarettes experience menopause two years earlier, on average, than nonsmoking women.

Menopause usually occurs around age 51 years old. If the final menstrual period happens between ages 40 to 45 years, then doctors call this early menopause.

Early (or premature) natural menopause is when, before age 45, your body stops releasing eggs and reduces its production of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone. Menopause typically happens between ages 45 and 55. Natural menopause means that the body is entering menopause on its own, not from surgery or ovary damage (from chemotherapy or another cause).

Irregular menstrual patterns can make it difficult for women to discern whether periods have stopped temporarily or permanently. When you have had no periods for a year, doctors may determine that you have entered menopause.

Generally speaking, early menopause is no more dangerous or serious for a woman than menopause that occurs at the traditional time. When women reach menopause, their bone density starts to decrease, which can lead to osteoporosis. Women who undergo early menopause are at higher risk of osteoporosis than women who reach menopause in their late forties or early fifties. Osteoporosis can be a serious health condition but you can help to prevent it by taking calcium and vitamin D. If you believe you are starting menopause early, you should speak to your doctor.

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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.