What is premature menopause?

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When menopause occurs in women under the age of 40, it is called premature menopause. It can be caused by medical treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy, by disturbances in the hormonal signaling system, or by disease. The symptoms of premature menopause are the same as those occurring during normal menopause.
Julia Schlam Edelman
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)
Premature menopause refers to the cessation of menstrual periods and the end of fertility before the age of 40. This can occur naturally or as a consequence of radiation or chemotherapy. Survivors of childhood cancer are more likely to experience premature menopause.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Most women will go through menopause naturally, usually between the ages of 47 and 55. For some women though, it comes even earlier. When that happens it’s known as premature menopause.

It can happen naturally, or sometimes the cause is unknown. One known cause, however, is premature ovarian failure (POF), a condition that causes estrogen levels to rise and fall unpredictably and sometimes stop altogether. Premature ovarian failure can cause menopause to occur at the age of 40 or younger. It can be genetic or autoimmune, meaning the body mistakenly attacks itself, in this case it's attacking the ovarian tissue. It can also come about from surgical removal of the ovaries or because of cancer therapies that inadvertently damage the ovaries.
Premature menopause occurs when your ovaries stop releasing eggs before you turn 40. It can occur naturally or be induced by surgery such as a hysterectomy and oophorectomy, removal of your uterus and ovaries. Premature menopause includes symptoms such as flashes, night sweat, and mood swings.

If you experience premature menopause naturally, you may no longer be able to conceive children. Talk to your doctor about other options for conception if you experience premature menopause.
Patricia Geraghty, NP
Women's Health
WWhen menopause occurs in women 40 years old or younger, it is "premature." This may be caused by surgical removal of the ovaries, damage to the ovaries from medication such as chemotherapy, or it may be spontaneous. Women with premature menopause should see their clinician to confirm the diagnosis. As the ovaries of these women no longer produce hormones, they may benefit from using hormone therapy.  

A large group of women in the Nurses Health Study who chose to have their ovaries removed when they were having hysterectomies for reasons other than cancer were compared to women who kept their ovaries. After analysing almost 30,000 women, the women who kept their ovaries had better health in the years following surgery. Specifically, they had less cancer and less hip fractures. This reassures us that using hormones in the age group of women who experience premature menopause is more likely to benefit their health than to cause harm. Each women needs to make this decision based on her personal health and health risks.

Menopause is called "premature" if it happens at or before the age of 40. For some women, it happens naturally. This could be due to family history of premature menopause. For other women, it is brought on by medical means, such as:

Medical treatments, such as surgery to remove the ovaries Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation to the pelvic area that damage the ovaries — although menopause does not always occur

For women who want to have children, premature menopause can be a Source: of great distress. Women who still want to become pregnant can talk with their doctors about other ways of having children, such as donor egg programs or adoption.

Having premature menopause puts a woman at more risk for osteoporosis later in her life. If you have premature menopause, talk to your doctor about whether MHT might be an option for you. We don't know for sure how MHT might affect younger women. But some researchers think that for these younger women, the risks of MHT use are likely to be smaller and the benefits greater than those in older women who begin MHT at or beyond the typical age of menopause.

This answer is based on source information from the National Women's Health Information Center.

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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.