Understanding Early Menopause

December 19, 2010

Menopause is the natural time in a woman's life when the ovaries stop ripening and no longer release eggs. It's the end of a woman's fertile phase and includes the cessation of periods. Menopause is accompanied by significant hormone changes and these fluctuations can make this phase difficult.

Menopause usually occurs in women who are middle aged with the average start age of around 51. Early menopause, also called premature menopause, is when women experience menopause in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Even women as early as their teens have experienced early menopause. Premature menopause can also be called premature ovarian failure.

Causes

Viral Infections: Pregnant women who contract a viral infection can transfer that infection to their female fetuses. The ovarian development of the female fetus can be stunted causing the child to be born with fewer eggs. Fewer eggs mean that a woman will run out of eggs sooner which can lead to early menopause.

Family History: Women tend to go through menopause at the same age their mothers did. If premature menopause runs in your family, there is a slightly higher chance that you might experience it as well. Some studies show that the chance of this happening is low with only five percent of women experiencing early menopause if there's any family history of it.

Surgery: All you need is one ovary to function correctly and produce enough hormones to prevent early menopause. But even surgery on one ovary, such as when an ovarian cyst is removed, can cause damage to blood vessels to the ovaries interfering with the blood flow and causing the remaining ovary to slowly die out. When both ovaries are damaged, eggs are no longer released and a woman goes into menopause. Ovarian failure can sometimes happen to a woman who has had a tubal ligation. Sometimes this surgery can also interfere with blood flow to the ovaries and cause them to fail and cause premature menopause. A total hysterectomy where the uterus, both fallopian tubes and ovaries have been remove leads to sudden menopause. The symptoms can be very intense because the dropping of the estrogen and progesterone levels is very sudden and leads to instant menopause.

Illnesses: An autoimmune disorder happens when the body attacks itself. If it affects the reproductive system, your ovarian tissue antibodies attack your ovaries and destroy their ability to function. No ovulation means early menopause. Chromosomal irregularities cause low levels of reproductive hormone production which ultimately kill the ovaries.

Radiation Treatment: Radiation or chemotherapy used to treat cancer destroys the cancer cells, but can also permanently damage the ovaries. The breast cancer treatment, Tamoxifen, acts as an estrogen blocker. Low estrogen levels signal the body to go into early menopause. Premature menopause caused by Tamoxifen is often temporary and regular ovarian function can return once treatment stops.

Treatments

Hormone replacement therapy can help treat some of the symptoms of early menopause and make you more comfortable. For younger women, there is not always a guarantee that hormone treatment can make you fertile again if you've entered premature menopause. Hormone replacement therapy cannot make eggs where there were none.

Those looking to have a child after suffering premature menopause should visit a fertility specialist to find out what options are available to them. If a woman is still in the early stages of premature menopause, fertility treatments may be possible.

 

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