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When menopause happens before age 40, it is considered early. Early menopause can be caused by certain medical treatments, or it can just happen on its own.
Medical treatments that may cause early menopause include:
Sometimes menopause happens early on its own. Some possible causes include:
When menopause comes early on its own, it sometimes has been called “premature menopause” or “premature ovarian failure.” But a better term is “primary ovarian insufficiency,” which describes the decreased activity in the ovaries. In some cases, women have ovaries that still make hormones from time to time, and their menstrual periods return. Some women can even become pregnant after the diagnosis.
Usually, menopause is confirmed when a woman hasn't had her period for 12 months in a row. To help determine if you may be reaching menopause, your doctor will ask if you've had signs like hot flashes, irregular periods, sleep problems, and vaginal dryness. But these signs are not enough to determine that you are reaching menopause.
Blood tests that can measure estrogen and related hormones, like follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), can help determine if you have reached early menopause. You may choose to get tested if you want to know whether you can still get pregnant. Your hormone levels change daily, though, so you may need to have a test more than once to know for sure.
Women who enter menopause early can have symptoms similar to those of regular menopause. These can include hot flashes, mood changes, vaginal dryness, and decreased sex drive. For some women with early menopause, these symptoms are quite severe. In addition, women who go through menopause early may have a higher risk of certain health problems, such as heart disease and osteoporosis. Talk to your doctor about treatments like menopausal hormone therapy that can help with symptoms. Discuss ways to protect your health.
Women who want to have children and go through early menopause may feel extremely upset. If you want to be a parent, talk to your doctor about other options, like donor egg programs or adoption. Your doctor may suggest that you see an infertility specialist. You also can talk to your doctor or a therapist about painful feelings from the loss of fertility and other effects of reaching menopause early.
Content last updated September 22, 2010.
Resources last updated September 22, 2010.