The first in our series of articles exploring premature menopause.
One of the least discussed menopause-related topics is premature menopause.
By definition, premature menopause or premature ovarian insufficiency (POI) is a menopause that occurs before the age of 45, given that the average woman undergoes the menopause between 45 and 55 years old. To be clear, that does not include symptoms of the menopause or perimenopause. The menopause is exactly 12 full months without a period. If you experience this before the age of 45, you’re going through premature menopause. So, what causes it, and are you susceptible to it?
…for the majority of natural POI cases (90%, to be exact) there is no underlying cause.
There are plenty of causes of premature menopause; both natural and unnatural. Let’s start with the natural. This can be genetic, or have to do with chromosome abnormalities (like Turner Syndrome) which affects your ovaries. Likewise, an autoimmune disease (the cause of about 5% of POI cases) or an infection (like malaria, tuberculosis, and mumps) can cause POI, though the latter is rarer. However, for the majority of natural POI cases (90%, to be exact) there is no underlying cause. Now, if you think you may be at risk of a natural POI, it’s important to know that in most cases of natural POI, the ovaries don’t completely fail, which means that you can still eventually get your period, ovulate, and get pregnant – this is not the same as menopause!
Alternatively, on the unnatural side, radiotherapy and chemotherapy can sometimes cause premature menopause (depending on your age, type of treatment, and area of treatment), as well as having your ovaries removed (a hysterectomy, for example).
…for those experiencing premature menopause or POI, it can be incredibly difficult, especially because it is highly likely that no one around you is going through it.
Symptoms of early menopause are the same as symptoms of the menopause, including hot flushes, insomnia, mood swings and anxiety. Likewise, treatment of premature menopause is the same as that of the menopause, i.e. HRT, or alternative treatments and natural remedies.
Regardless of the cause, POI is fairly rare in the UK, given that only about 1% of women under 40 in the UK suffer from it (that is, 1 in 100 women under the age of 40). It’s even rarer at younger ages, with rates dropping to 0.1% and 0.01% under 30 and 20, respectively. Nonetheless, for those experiencing premature menopause or POI, it can be incredibly difficult, especially because it is highly likely that no one around you is going through it. Even at a ‘normal’ age, the menopause can be something that is scary, difficult to understand, and isolating – so at a younger age, these feelings might only be amplified.
If you are going through premature menopause, know that there are resources and you don’t have to face this alone. Our friends at The Daisy Network do an excellent job at providing information and support for premature menopause. With annual events, newsletters, private Facebook groups and chat forums, and live chats and videos, you can find the support and the help you need so you feel a little less alone, and a lot more informed!
If you are currently experiencing or have experienced premature menopause and would be happy to share your story, we would love to hear from you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.