Early And Premature Menopause

The average a woman reaches menopause in the UK is 51 years old; however, this does not mean that everyone goes through menopause at this age. In some cases, classed as premature menopause, symptoms can occur much earlier, before the age of 40 years old. When a woman experiences their last period between 40 and 45 years old, this is classed as early menopause. Premature menopause is also known as premature ovarian failure, or POF.

Premature menopause may occur naturally or it may be brought on by medical treatment, underlying health issues and disorders, surgery and infections. Possible causes of premature menopause include:

  • Surgery: surgical procedures, which involve the ovaries, can cause damage, which triggers early menopause
  • Hysterectomy (this procedure involves removing the uterus), which causes periods to stop completely
  • Chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment for cancer; this is particularly influential if you have had radiotherapy treatment in the pelvic region
  • Family history

In some cases, there is no clear cause of early menopause.

How common is premature menopause?

According to the charity, The Daisy Network, around 110,000 women in the UK are living with the effects of premature menopause; it affects 1 per cent of under 40's, 0.1 per cent of under 30's and 0.01 per cent of women under 20 years old.

Symptoms of premature menopause

Symptoms of premature menopause tend to be similar to those associated with menopause and include:

  • hot flushes
  • night sweats
  • mood swings
  • lack of interest in sex
  • vaginal symptoms, such as dryness

As premature menopause can be very distressing, it is also common for women to experience anxiety, which may lead to sleep problems, changes in appetite and an increased risk of stress and depression.

Some women may be able to cope with their symptoms, but if you struggle or you have very severe symptoms, it is a good idea to seek help from your GP. There are various treatments and self-help tips, which may help to ease symptoms and make you feel more comfortable.

Coping with premature menopause

In many cases, premature menopause can be very distressing, not least because it is often linked to existing pr previous health conditions, which may have already taken their toll on physical and mental health, such as cancer. As well as coping with the varied symptoms of menopause, an early menopause may have implications for family planning, as fertility is greatly reduced and in younger women, their chances of having a baby will fall as they approach menopause. A diagnosis of premature menopause can be devastating, especially if you wanted to have more children or you haven't had any children and you wanted to have a family in the future. If you are diagnosed with premature menopause, there is help available and you shouldn't ever feel like you need to struggle alone; counselling is available from your GP, your care team will be there to provide information and answer questions and you can also get in touch with charities, such as The Daisy Network and The British Menopause Society.

The Daisy Network is a charity, which specifically supports women who are affected by premature menopause and the people close to them; it offers practical information, emotional support and the chance to get to know other women who are in the same boat and have shared similar experiences. There are forums online and events, which enable you to raise awareness, learn more and meet others affected by premature menopause.

Late menopause

Just as some women go through the menopause earlier than average, some also experience their last period later in life. The average age of menopause is 51 years old, but some women continue to menstruate until the age of 55 or even later. So what causes late menopause and are there any risks involved?

What causes late-onset menopause?

Late menopause relates to the development of symptoms associated with menopause after the age of 55 years old; there are various factors, which may delay the onset of menopause, including:

  • Family history
  • BMI and obesity: there is evidence to suggest that being overweight or obese can delay the onset of menopausal symptoms. A healthy BMI should be between 18.5 and 25; a BMI or 25-30 indicates that you are overweight, while a figure of over 30 indicates obesity. Your BMI is calculated using your height and weight measurements; in most cases, it is an accurate measurement, but this may not be the case for everyone; professional rugby players, for example may be classed as obese because they weigh a lot due to high muscle mass.
  • Thyroid disorders: if you have an overactive or under active thyroid, this can cause disruptions with the menstrual cycles and affect the age you experience menopause. Sometimes, the symptoms of thyroid disorders can also be confused with those linked to menopause, as they can be similar.
  • High oestrogen levels: if you have abnormally high levels of oestrogen, this can delay the onset of menopausal symptoms.

Late menopause and pregnancy

While you are still menstruating, there is chance that you can get pregnant and even if you are aged over 50 years old, you should use contraception if you have not been through the menopause and you don't want to conceive. Although it is possible for women ages over 50 to conceive naturally, fertility declines in the run-up to menopause and naturally as you age and there are greater risks to both your health an the health of your baby is you have children later in life.

What risks are involved with late menopause?

There are health benefits of late menopause, which are associated with prolonged higher levels of oestrogen, but there are also risks. While your risk of suffering from osteoporosis (sometimes known as brittle bones) and ovarian cancer may be lower, the risk of breast cancer may increase. Researchers have also suggested that there may be an elevated risk of cervical cancer and regular smear tests and mammograms are recommended.

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