Premature Menopause

March 3, 2010

If you interview a dozen women about menopause, you'll get a dozen different ideas and concepts of what menopause is like, or, if the woman has not yet arrived there, what it will be like. However, for some women menopause comes unexpectedly, leaving them with myriad questions and a profound sense of feeling overwhelmed.

Menopause Before 40?

Premature menopause, or premature ovarian failure (POF), strikes one in 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 29, and one in 100 women between 30 and 39. It can happen at any time or age, regardless whether they've had a family or not. It is labeled as premature, because it happens to women before the age of 40, which is the magic number associated with perimenopause or pre-menopause. Women who suffer with POF have lost the function of ovulation. This can be the result of ovarian dysfunction or a less-than-normal amount of follicles in the ovaries.

What's The Difference Between Menopause And POF?

There are some differences between menopause and POF, the most obvious being age. While peri-menopause may start in the 40s, menopause usually happens around age 51. Premature ovarian failure can occur at any time before the age of 40. The most common age is 27. When a woman experiences menopause, menstruation stops because there are no follicles left to produce into eggs, therefore no need for menses. A woman with POF may still have follicles, but they may be low in number or the ovaries may be dysfunctional. She can still menstruate, although her periods will likely be very irregular (one of the signs of POF). Irregular periods can be a sign of any number of problems, so it is important to check in with the doctor before making any self-diagnoses.

Just Like The Real Thing!

The symptoms of premature ovarian failure include irregular periods, hot flashes, night sweats, low libido, irritability, painful sex, and thinning and drying of the vaginal walls. They are exactly like many of the symptoms of full-blown menopause. However, some women with POF may have normal periods and may not have any symptoms. The diagnosis may be made through the measuring of FSH levels. In the case of POF, the FSH levels are very high. Again, before jumping to any conclusions, it is best to contact the doctor and discuss the results of any tests that have been done.

What Causes It?

The cause of POF remains a mystery for most women. For others, identifiable causes include having an autoimmune disorder, thyroid dysfunction, an eating disorder or a hysterectomy. Genetics can play a part in POF, as can Turner syndrome, inadequate gonadotropin secretion, viral infection, or concluding chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer.

Some women with POF are quite fine with the idea of not having a baby, while others who want to have children decide to pursue fertility treatments. Either way, it is important to be informed about the condition in order to learn about treatment options.

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