What is “early” menopause? Menopause is when a woman stops menstruating for at least 1 year, due to a depletion in her eggs. Women are born with approximately 1 – 2 million eggs and by the time they reach menopause and stop ovulating and menstruating, they have less than 1000 eggs remaining. We begin losing eggs before birth, while in our mother’s womb (fun fact: we actually start with a peak number of eggs (around 6 – 7 million when we are a 20 wk old fetus) and this process accelerates as we age past our 30s and 40s.
Once our egg quantity diminishes, periods begin to occur more frequently for a period of time. Eventually, periods begin to space out and become infrequent and then eventually stop altogether. The average age of menopause in the US is 51 years of age. Early or premature menopause happens when periods stop due to egg depletion at age 40 years or earlier. There are many reasons why someone’s period can stop, other than menopause. Therefore, women can have blood tests done by their OBGYN to confirm the diagnosis. Measurement of hormones, such as follicle-stimulating hormone and anti-mullerian hormone, can indicate egg quantity and confirm the diagnosis.
We spoke to Dr. Lucky Sekhon, an RMS Fertility Specialist and reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist, and an assistant clinical professor in the Mount Sinai Health System. We asked Dr. Lucky about her top five signs you have early menopause and what you can do. Keep reading for more.
The 5 Signs You Might Be Going Through Early Menopause
- Hot flashes and night sweat: the drop in estrogen can lead to your body not being able to regulate its temperature appropriately, leading to sudden flashes of heat and sweating which can occur both during the day and night, and with little warning. Nightsweats can be a significant source of discomfort, where a woman wakes up drenched in sweat.
- Sleep disturbance: the hormonal changes of menopause can cause night sweats and insomnia. As people age, they tend to sleep less and wake earlier – this tends to be more common in early menopause, which is essentially ovarian aging.
- Mood changes and difficulty concentrating: the drop in estrogen which accompanies menopause can be met with increased anxiety, depression, and irritability. One may also notice that it is more difficult to concentrate or to remember things.
- Vaginal dryness: estrogen is important to maintaining the vaginal wall lining and moisture. In menopause, the vaginal lining becomes thin and dry and this can lead to irritation, itching, and pain with sex.
- Decreased libido: the ovaries produce estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone. Which are all important for normal sexual function in the female body. Testosterone also comes from the female adrenal gland. When menopause is reached, the levels of all of these hormones are reduced and this can lead to decreased desire and ability to orgasm.
Here’s What You Can Do About Early Menopause
Women who enter menopause early should be aware of the expected signs and symptoms, and associated health risks. Entering menopause early can predispose women to osteoporosis and bone fractures and heart disease. When a woman enters menopause, they should discuss this with their doctor and consider their options. This can include hormone replacement therapy, where estrogen or a combination of estrogen and progesterone. This therapy is used to replenish the body’s hormones to protect the bones from thinning and to treat symptoms such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness.
In addition to hormone replacement, or instead of it, women can also consider treatment with antidepressants that are known to help treat hot flashes, as well as supplementation with calcium and vitamin D to further protect against bone thinning.
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