For most young women, menopause is something they probably don’t even think about. After all, ‘the change’ is way off, right? Given that the average age a woman goes through the menopause in the UK is 51, they’d be forgiven for thinking this way.

But for some, it’s a different story. Early menopause can occur in some women as early as their teens, 20’s, 30’s, and early 40’s. As you can imagine, this is devastating for younger women, especially for those who planned to have families, and it brings with it a whole host of unpleasant symptoms and health risks.

The confusion around terminology

For women who go through early menopause, they might hear the terms ‘premature menopause’, ‘premature ovarian failure’ and ‘premature ovarian insufficiency’ (POI) being used. They all mean the same thing, that the ovaries have stopped working properly, and have stopped producing eggs and the hormones oestrogen and progesterone which play a big part in health and wellbeing. The only thing that distinguishes these terms from each other is that premature menopause means this happens before the age of 45 and premature ovarian sufficiency means that it happens before the age of 40.

An important note about POI

With POI, an important thing to note is that sometimes the ovaries don’t completely fail. Their function might improve intermittently, so a period or even pregnancy is possible. It’s thought that around 5-10% of women diagnosed with POI will conceive.

How common is early menopause?

Early menopause affects around:

One in 100 women under the age of 40

One in 1000 women under the age of 30

One in 10,000 women under the age of 20

This equates to about 110,000 women in Britain.

What causes early menopause?

For the majority of women who experience early menopause, it happens spontaneously, which means no underlying cause is found. Early menopause is also linked to:

  • A family history of early menopause
  • The surgical removal of the ovaries with or without a hysterectomy
  • A history of infections like tuberculosis, mumps, malaria, shingles or chickenpox-though this is very rare
  • Auto-immune conditions like Addison’s disease, underactive thyroid, and type 1 diabetes
  • Genetic defects which cause abnormalities in the female sex chromosome (the X chromosome) or other genes affecting sex hormone function-this is more common in very young women or those with a family history of early menopause
  • Cancer treatment

This is becoming an increasingly common cause of early menopause. Chemotherapy or radiotherapy can temporarily or permanently damage the ovaries.

Am I going through early menopause?

If you’re under the age of 40 and you’re experience these symptoms, see your GP;

Irregular periods or no periods at all

Inability to get pregnant

Hot flushes and night sweats

Insomnia

Palpitations

Weight gain around the tummy and waist

Dry skin

Thinning hair

Headaches

Mood swings

Anxiety

Depression

Feeling less confidence

Loss of sex drive

Trouble with concentration and memory

Tiredness

Vaginal dryness

Remember-you know your own body!

If you go to your doctor with these symptoms and you feel fobbed off or like you’re not being taken seriously, you’re perfectly entitled to seek a second opinion. Because many doctors won’t entertain the idea that these symptoms could be down to menopause before a woman is in her late 40’s or early 50’s, a diagnosis of early menopause is delayed for many women. Often women have no idea what’s going on themselves, and it’s only when they’re a little down the line that they look back and realise that the symptoms they were experiencing were due to the menopause.

A timely diagnosis is important

Falling oestrogen levels during early menopause can increase the risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular issues, so a timely diagnosis is vital. There are things that can help you manage your menopause symptoms and help you reduce health risks, like HRT, eating a healthy diet, staying active, drinking less alcohol, quitting smoking, managing stress, complementary therapies, and herbal remedies*.

*Remember to speak to your doctor before you try any herbal remedies in case they interact with any medication you’re on.

Where can I go for more support?

As well as getting help from your GP, The Daisy Network is a great source of information and advice for women going through early menopause. The Daisy Network is the only UK registered charity for women who have experienced POI and provides its members with information, advice and support.

My mission

Raising awareness about the menopause among women, men, and employers is all about education and making it comfortable and acceptable for people to speak about it. Menopause is not a condition to be treated and cured, it’s a normal stage of life that every woman goes through. Helping people to realise this is my mission.

My training events are aimed at educating HR professionals, managers, and working women about the menopause in a fun, engaging, and informative way.

If you’d like to find out more, contact me at sharon@missmenopause.co.uk

You can also join my Facebook group or my Facebook and Twitter campaign #wearemenopause

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