Guest Author - Tammy Elizabeth Southin
If age 51 is the medically accepted average age for women in menopause, what does that mean for younger women dealing with menopausal symptoms? Menopause at any age can be difficult depending on the symptoms a woman experiences. Going through the change can be isolating since no two women go through the exact same menopause journey. What does this mean for a younger woman surrounded by her peers who still think of menopause as off in the future?
Based on that magical age of 51, premature menopause is defined as having menopausal symptoms before age 40. Trying to find a common ground between the younger menopausal woman and her doctor has been challenging. Many doctors have been trained to think in terms of a particular age for menopause and many women are likely confused about what is happening to their bodies. Could I really be menopausal? In my 30s?
Premature or early menopause affects many women and according to some statistics is quite common. According to the American Pregnancy Association, as many as 1 in 1000 women between the ages of 15 to 29, and 1 in 100 women 30 – 39 undergo premature menopause.
Premature menopause symptoms
Menopause, premature or otherwise, shares the same characteristics. Depending on the individual woman, symptoms can range from mild to severe. Premature menopause does not mean symptoms are very different from so-called normal menopause. The hot flashes, night sweats, genital dryness, insomnia, mood swings, painful intercourse, loss of libido, fatigue, and other symptoms are the same.
Premature menopause causes
*Genetics – if a woman’s mother or sister(s) went through early menopause the chances for developing early menopause are greater
*Medical procedures – having a hysterectomy or receiving chemotherapy or radiation treatments upset the body’s hormonal levels and contribute to premature menopause
*Illnesses – some diseases including hypothyroidism and lupus will also affect hormone levels and may bring on early menopause
Premature menopause health risks
Premature menopause patients face the same health risks as their older counterparts including increased risks for developing heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, colon cancer, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer. The main difference is that premature menopause means living with these increased risks for a longer period of time thanks to the decreased estrogen levels.
Diagnosing premature menopause
In the past doctors tended to dismiss younger patients complaining about menopausal symptoms; those symptoms were all in their patients’ heads (save for those with a direct medical explanation such as the chemotherapy, radiation, hysterectomy, or other illness). But now with greater awareness means taking a second look at women’s health issues and recognizing that menopause does not affect all women the same way at the same age.
Doctors will perform a couple of tests to confirm premature menopause. The first is to measure a patient’s estrogen levels, particularly the estradiol levels in the ovaries. Lower estradiol levels are a strong indicator of premature menopause. Another test will measure the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) levels in the ovaries and again help determine early menopause. In many cases, women who have been trying to get pregnant with no success for over a year may be experiencing lower hormonal levels.
Premature menopause and isolation
Menopause is not always the common bonding moment between women as portrayed in the movies or in books. Many women find menopause to be a solitary experience especially if their immediate female peers do not share the same symptoms or menopausal moments. For younger women the isolation is even more pronounced. Younger women, focused on pregnancies and generally good health, are not even thinking of menopause.
For a woman under 40, trying to seek support can be virtually impossible; her own age group will deal with menopause ‘someday’ and older menopausal women have a hard time seeing a younger woman as menopausal.
Premature menopause has its set of challenges on top of the usual symptoms and difficulties. Fortunately advances in the ways menopause is diagnosed and treated means that women can seek the help they need no matter what their age.
Menopause, Your Doctor, and You