What Qualifies As Early Menopause’?

early-menopauseMenopause: When the menses pause, stopping forever.

The average age in the United States for menopause is 51. Some women go through the ‘change of life’ earlier than that and some, later.

A woman is considered to have ‘early menopause’ when she stops menstruating permanently prior to the age of 45. If a woman’s menses stop before the age of 40 it is deemed ‘premature menopause.’

Why does it happen?
Early menopause can be the result of surgery (hysterectomy). Women undergoing radiation and/or chemotherapy treatment can be thrown into early menopause. Women who smoke may go through menopause two years earlier than those who don’t.

A woman may have inherited the tendency for early menopause from her mother or suffer from premature ovarian failure. POF or premature ovarian failure takes place when a female’s ovaries lessen in function prior to the age of 40. Periods may continue intermittently for months or years after POF occurs, which differentiates POF from premature menopause, where the menstrual periods stop completely. POF generally leads to infertility.

Women who have lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or thyroid disease may experience early menopause.

S.K. age 59: I started having symptoms when I was 39. My doctor put me on HRT, which made me have a period. I took it for six years. As soon as I stopped, I no longer had a period. I still have an occasional hot flash and some other symptoms but not as bad as before. What I hate the most is how much my hair has thinned.

The Danger of Early Menopause
Those experiencing menopause early (before 45) or prematurely (before 40) are at a higher risk for suffering a heart attack or stroke, according to Machelle Seibel, MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.

When estrogen diminishes as a result of menopause, bad cholesterol gets higher, which interferes with the ability of arteries to expand and contract. This prompts atherosclerosis, a condition in which plaque accumulates inside the arteries, thwarting the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the body.

Some physicians recommend their patients undergo hormone therapy to counter the side effects and health risks facing the menopausal woman whereas others don’t. This, ultimately, is your decision. Weigh the risks against the advantages of taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT.)

D.C., age 48: I had a complete hysterectomy in 2004 when I was 37. I weighed 140 pounds when I had it done. Within three months, I had gained 45 pounds. I immediately went into menopause. I am now 62 pounds heavier. I am on hormone replacement, have tried going off but my family cannot tolerate me. My worst fear is breast cancer but my biggest challenge right now is the weight. I have a beer gut but I don’t drink beer. Although I love not having a monthly cycle, I think the side effects leave much to be desired. I didn’t use to sweat; now buckets pour off me. I have been told my symptoms may never go away since (menopause) was surgically- induced. It affects women differently. Boy, wasn’t I lucky?

D.W., age 61: Chemotherapy, for breast cancer, threw me into menopause at age 46. After chemo and radiation, I had a hysterectomy for preventative reasons. I wasn’t able to take HRT because my tumor was positive for estrogen and progesterone. Hot flashes were bad in the beginning but have subsided greatly.

L.C., age 50: I started having hot flashes at 47 and stopped having my period at 49. I gained 15 pounds and it’s all in my middle area; looks like I’m pregnant again! My hot flashes are awful. I started taking black cohosh and it seems to have helped somewhat. I hate getting old!

Personal Empirical Layman’s Assessment:
This writer became fully and naturally menopausal at age 56, later than most. I did not opt for hormone therapy.

I have friends who underwent hysterectomies in their late twenties because of menorrhagia, which means flooding.

I, too, experienced menorrhagia in my thirties, resulting in two D&C’s and a blood transfusion at one point, but I did not agree to a hysterectomy, as one physician recommended. I’m certainly glad I didn’t because I hadn’t yet had baby #3.

It seems to me many young women have undergone unnecessary hysterectomies at their doctor’s recommendation or perhaps because of their own insistence. Yes, a hysterectomy stops the problem of flooding because it halts the menses entirely and permanently and it is certainly a surefire means of birth control. However, is this a good option for a woman who typically and naturally would have menstruated for another 20 or 25 years?

Now, in their early sixties, 35 years or so after surgery, these particular women are suffering extreme health problems and have been for years, including heart attacks, kidney failure, diabetes, obesity, anorexia, blindness and other severe maladies that have disabled them and hospitalized them on numerous occasions.

I don’t know if there is any connection between an early surgically-induced menopause leading to, in their respective cases, premature menopause at age 28, and their current health issues but I suspect there might be.

I am sure there are women who experienced surgically-induced menopause in their late twenties who remain healthy three decades later. I just happen to know of two women who aren’t doing so well and wonder if the early induced menopause might be a contributing factor.

If you are experiencing early or premature menopause discuss this thoroughly with your healthcare provider. Do research online. Go to reputable sites such as the Mayo Clinic or the Cleveland Clinic.

Advocate for yourself. Talk to other women who have experienced this. Get as informed as you can so you can make the best choice for treatment.

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About This Blogger

Cindi Pearce

Cindi Pearce has been writing professionally since the days of manual typewriters. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ohio University, Cindi is especially interested in women’s health concerns. She teaches yoga, is an amateur belly dancer, loves mowing her five acres of land with her beloved zero turn mower, has three grown children, one granddaughter and five large dogs. Cindi has managed to stay married to the same man for 35 years.

One Comment on ““What Qualifies As Early Menopause’?”

  1. Pat Mertz

    Love this. Nice article. Lots of great information…. Always enjoy reading articles by Cindi. She does her homework and presents it so I can understand the info.

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