Menopause occurs when a woman’s menstrual period stops permanently. A woman is considered to have being through menopause only after one year without experiencing her periods. It marks the end of menstrual cycle, and happens in age of 40s and 50s.
Early menopause (premature menopause or premature ovarian failure) is when menopause happens before age of 40. Early menopause is best termed “primary ovarian insufficiency” which describes the decreased activity of the ovaries.
Perimenopause (literally meaning around menopause) refers to the menopause transition years, a span time both before and after the date of the final episode flow.
In the lead up of menopause, known as the perimenopause, estrogen levels decrease causing the ovaries to stop producing an egg each month (ovulation). This is one of the major signs of perimenopause. Natural or physiological menopause occurs as a part of woman’s aging process. It is the result of the eventual depletion of almost all of the oocytes and ovarian follicles in the ovaries. This cause an increase in circulatory follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) levels because there are a decreased number of oocytes and follicles responding to these hormones and producing estrogen. The decrease in the production of estrogen leads to the perimenopausal symptoms of hot flashes, insomnia and mood changes. Long-term effects may include osteoporosis and vaginal atrophy, vaginal dryness, itching or discomfort which makes sex difficult or painful (dyspareunia).
Early menopause can be caused by certain medical treatments or it can just happen on its own.
Medical treatments that cause early menopause include:
Chemotherapy or pelvic radiation treatments for cancer
Depending on the amount or type of chemotherapy used, these treatments can damage the ovaries and cause menstrual periods to stop.
Surgery to remove ovaries
Surgical removal of both ovaries, also called bilateral oophorectomy causes menopause/menopausal symptoms to stop right away. A woman’s period will stop after this surgery and her hormone drop quickly.
Surgery to remove the uterus
Some women who undergo a hysterectomy, which removes the uterus, are able to keep their ovaries. They will not enter menopause right away because their ovaries will continue to make hormones. But, because their uterus is removed, they no longer have periods and cannot get pregnant.
Sometimes early menopause happens on its own. Some possible causes include:
Problems in the chromosomes can cause premature menopause. For example, women with Turner’s syndrome are born without all or part of “X” chromosome. The ovaries don’t form normally and early menopause results.
Women with a family history of early menopause are more likely to have early menopause themselves.
The body’s immune system which normally fights diseases may mistakenly attack the ovaries and prevent them from making hormones. Thyroid disease and rheumatoid arthritis are two diseases that cause this to happen.
The signs and/or symptoms associated with early menopause can be similar to those of regular menopause. The signs of early menopause are hot flashes, mood changes, vaginal dryness, and decreased sex drive. Women who go through menopause early may have a higher risk of certain health problems such as heart disease, and osteoporosis.