The average age of menopause is 51. However, some women go through the menopause before the age of 40. This is called Premature Ovarian Insufficiency, or early menopause. It affects around one in every 100 women.
Menopause occurs when the balance of the body’s sex hormones changes. Although this normally happens over the age of 45, it can occur before then.
Doctors are unsure why, in many cases. In others, early menopause can be triggered by:
- surgery to remove the ovaries
- certain treatments for breast cancer
- chemotherapy or radiotherapy
- certain long-term conditions such as Down’s Syndrome or Addison’s Disease.
- some infections such as tuberculosis, mumps, malaria and chickenpox
If you start to experience symptoms of the menopause below the age of 45, talk to your doctor or gynaecologist. A blood test will be able to measure your hormone levels and confirm whether or not you are experiencing an early menopause. It will test for raised levels of FSH and low levels of Oestrogen.
There are treatments for both the physical and psychological effects of early menopause.
Early menopause carries an increased risk of Osteoporosis (weak bones) due to the decline in Oestrogen levels. It an also carry an increased risk of Cardiovascular Disease. Because of this, women with the condition are normally advised to take HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) until the normal age of menopause (around 51-52).
For some women, early menopause means they are unable to have children naturally. IVF is an option for some, using eggs donated by another woman. There are counselling services and support networks to help women to deal with the psychological impacts of Premature Ovarian Failure, including The Daisy Network which is a patient-led support group based in the UK. Your GP or gynaecologist will be able to advise you.