Womanhood is a journey marked with so many pivotal moments – puberty, falling in love, climbing the ladder in your career, starting a family… the list is a long and impressive one. But perhaps 2 of the most significant moments on the journey are biological markers that in some way – can be argued to be the most momentous of the journey. The starting of your menstrual cycle and ultimately the ending of the cycle. There is so much tied to both – physically, emotionally and psychologically. So what happens when the end comes earlier than expected?
Menopause is the time in a woman’s life when her menstrual periods stop permanently and she can no longer get pregnant naturally. It happens when the ovaries cease making oestrogen and progesterone, two hormones needed for a woman’s fertility. When you experience 12 consecutive months without going on your periods, you have reached menopause. The transition period leading up to your last period is called perimenopause and usually starts several years before menopause, around your mid- to late 40s. Perimenopause lasts on average about four years before your periods stop. In this period, your body will start hinting helpful physical clues that the menopause journey is starting.
What is Early Menopause?
Menopause is a normal part of ageing that on average starts between the ages of 45-55 years. However, when menopause occurs before the age of 40, it is referred to as premature menopause. Menopause that happens between 40 and 45 is called early menopause.
What Causes Early Menopause?
Besides it happening naturally, one medical cause of premature or early menopause is premature ovarian failure. Menopause may also happen earlier as a side effect of certain surgeries, medicines, treatments or health conditions. For instance, damage to the ovaries by chemotherapy and/or radiation treatments, or surgical removal of the ovaries can cause early menopause. Uncommon causes that may also lead to early menopause include family history, smoking, drugs and chronic diseases.
What Are The Symptoms of Early Menopause?
Whether it is natural or induced, women who enter menopause early get symptoms that are often similar to those of women going through natural menopause. They include: mood swings, mild-depression, hot flashes, weight gain, cognitive changes, emotional problems and vaginal dryness. Also common are irregular or infrequent periods, urinary incontinence, sleeplessness sand decreased desire for sex. These symptoms are a sign that the ovaries are producing less estrogen.
The symptoms of premature menopause are similar to the symptoms of the menopause but are often more severe. So if any of your menopause symptoms bother you, talk to your GP about how best to manage early menopause , as some symptoms do require treatment. Make sure the doctor knows your personal and your family medical history.
What are the Effects of Early Menopause?
Women who experience early menopause commonly face:
- Infertility challenges should they desire to have children. This can be accompanied by feelings of emotional distress and depression. Talk to your GP if you have symptoms of depression, as they can recommend specialists who can help you deal with your feelings. Your GP can also discuss options, such as adoption or donor egg programs, if you want to have children.
- Increased risk of developing other health problems, such as weak bones (osteoporosis), heart disease, stroke and Parkinson’s-like symptoms. The reason being, women with premature menopause experience a longer time period of their life without the benefits of higher oestrogen levels which in turn, increases their risk of health problems.
- Changes in your sex life. Lower hormone levels can make your vaginal tissue drier, thinner and less flexible hence making sex uncomfortable or painful. You may also experience a lower sex drive so it may take you longer to get aroused. Being less interested in sex as you get older is not a medical condition that requires treatment. But if changes in your sexual health bother you, talk to your GP about helpful treatments such as those to relieve vaginal dryness.
- Hot flashes and night sweats which can disturb your sleep and make you tired causing insomnia.
- Emotional changes that can make you feel stressed or irritable.
By: Tapiwa Mhlanga