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Everything you need to know about early menopause

BY Adele Johnston

28th Nov 2023 Menopause

4 min read

Everything you need to know about early menopause
Did you know some women begin menopause in their thirties or earlier? Here's what you should know about early menopause
Menopause, a challenging but natural phase in a woman's life, has always been associated with the late forties or early fifties. However, recent research and experiences shared by women have shed light on a concerning phenomenon—early menopause in the thirties, and for some women in their twenties or younger.
"An increasing number of women are facing early menopause"
This silent transition can be a challenging and difficult experience, and understanding the hormonal changes during the perimenopausal phase is crucial.
In this article, we will explore why some women begin menopause in their thirties and discuss the role of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone in this pivotal phase. 

What is early menopause?

Menopause, defined as the cessation of menstruation for 12 consecutive months, typically occurs around the age of 51. However, an increasing number of women are facing early menopause, a condition known as premature ovarian insufficiency (POI) or premature menopause. 
Early menopause is characterised by the onset of menopausal symptoms before the age of 40. In some cases, it can even happen as early as the teens, twenties or early thirties. 
Early menopause
In some cases this may be due to medical reasons and interventions causing early menopause (medical menopause, or surgical menopause) but for many women the causes are unknown. 
Causes include:
  • Genetic predisposition: A family history of early menopause can increase risk.
  • Autoimmune diseases: Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and thyroid disorders can affect ovarian function.
  • Medical treatments: Certain cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, can damage the ovaries and cause premature ovarian insufficiency (POI).
  • Lifestyle factors: Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and a low body mass index (BMI) can increase the risk of early menopause. 
  • Surgical removal of ovaries and/or total hysterectomy: Procedures like oophorectomy, where one or both ovaries are removed, can induce early menopause. Medical procedures like a hysterectomy where total removal of all of the uterus occurs will result in instant menopause and not many women are explained this. 

Understanding your hormones

Perimenopause is the transitional phase leading up to menopause. It often begins in the late thirties and early forties. During this time, hormonal fluctuations become more pronounced.
"During perimenopause, hormonal fluctuations become more pronounced"
Let's explore how estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are affected during perimenopause.
  • Estrogen: levels fluctuate irregularly. Initially, they may remain stable or even increase. However, as a woman progresses through perimenopause, estrogen production declines. This decline leads to changes in the menstrual cycle and various symptoms, such as hot flashes, mood swings, and vaginal dryness. 
  • Progesterone: levels may remain stable or decrease slightly during perimenopause. This hormone plays a crucial role in regulating the menstrual cycle and preparing the uterine lining for potential pregnancy. As estrogen levels fluctuate, the balance between estrogen and progesterone can be disrupted, leading to irregular periods and heavy bleeding in some cases.
  • Testosterone: While often associated with males, testosterone is also present in females, albeit in smaller amounts. During perimenopause, testosterone levels may decline. This can result in decreased libido, reduced muscle mass, lost confidence and mood changes. 

How does early menopause affect women?

Early menopause in a woman’s thirties can be emotionally and physically challenging. The physical symptoms are compounded by the psychological impact of confronting menopause at a stage when many women are still building careers, starting families, or enjoying an active lifestyle.
This can bring fertility concerns. One of the most significant challenges is the impact on fertility. Early menopause can make it difficult for women to conceive. This can be especially distressing for those who had future family planning in mind. 
Sad couple
Early menopause is associated with a higher risk of certain health conditions, such as osteoporosis and heart disease, as estrogen's protective effects decline prematurely.
Emotional wellbeing is a major concern and hormonal changes can lead to mood swings, anxiety, and depression. Coping with menopausal symptoms while managing daily life responsibilities can be overwhelming. 

Raising awareness

Raising awareness to address the issue of early menopause is vital. Women need to be informed about the possibility of experiencing menopause in their thirties and the potential consequences.
Here's what we can do to raise awareness:
  • Education: Health professionals should provide information about early menopause to women, particularly those with risk factors. Knowledge empowers women to make informed decisions.
  • Open conversations: Encourage open conversations about menopause. The more women discuss their experiences, the more others will feel supported and informed. 
  • Support systems: Establish support groups for women going through early menopause. Sharing experiences and coping strategies can be immensely helpful.
  • Workplace considerations: Employers can consider policies that accommodate women dealing with early menopause symptoms, as they would for other health conditions making it possible for women to remain in their careers during a difficult time. 
Early menopause in our thirties is a reality for some women, and it comes with unique challenges. Understanding the hormonal changes that occur during perimenopause is vital to help women navigate this transition.
By raising awareness, offering support, and fostering open conversations, we can better equip women to face early menopause with resilience and confidence. It's time to recognise the silent struggle of these women and provide them with the knowledge and support they need and deserve. 
Adele Johnston is a leading perimenopause and menopause expert, and founder of The Menopause Coach, which specialises in supporting women aged 35+ through perimenopause and menopause
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