Life After Early Menopause
Early menopause, also referred to as premature menopause or premature ovarian failure, is diagnosed in women who have gone into menopause before the age of 45. The average age for reaching menopause among British women is 52. Depending on your personal circumstances and family situation, early menopause may bring with it a unique set of challenges not generally associated with later menopause. Women who’ve had a premature menopause will spend a longer portion of their lives exposed to the higher risks of certain medical conditions associated with low oestrogen levels. Furthermore, women in early menopause, particularly those who still wish to have children, may suffer emotionally after their diagnosis. Such women may consider adopting children or artificial reproductive technology, such as IVF using donor eggs, as a means of getting pregnant.
The symptoms of premature menopause are the same as those of ‘ordinary’ menopause: erratic, increasingly light periods, hot flushes, sweats, vaginal dryness, urinary problems, etc. This is because premature menopause, just like the normal menopause, is caused by decreasing levels of the female sex hormone, oestrogen, in the body. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms you should go to see your GP. Don’t panic, however. Premature menopause is rare – in the UK, early menopause affects only 1% of women under 40 and an even smaller 0.1% of women below the age of 30.
There are a range of reasons why some women begin menopause earlier than others. Genetics do play a role. The ovaries of women who have undergone treatment for cancer or who suffer from certain autoimmune conditions may fail early. Also, women who have had a hysterectomy before they naturally go into menopause may find that menopause begins after the surgery. Unfortunately, premature menopause cannot be reversed, only managed.
Different women in early menopause will have different priorities for their post menopause life. If you find yourself in this situation, you will probably have three main considerations: your physical well-being, your emotional health and, if you still wish to have children, your fertility.
There are a range of medical treatments available to keep you physically well after early menopause.
HRT – standard hormone replacement therapy is one possible treatment commonly offered to women in menopause. The treatment seeks to replace the levels of oestrogen lacking in the body – the medication helps to reduce unpleasant menopausal symptoms and prevent osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a bone-weakening condition aggravated by a lack of oestrogen.
The Pill – the combined oral contraceptive pill, which contains the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, is offered to women in early menopause who are not yet completely infertile. Of course, this treatment is appropriate only if you do not wish to have children. The hormones in the contraceptive pill may help to ease menopausal symptoms.
Eat Well – a good diet that includes calcium-rich foods and plenty of vitamin D will go a long way towards helping you to stay healthy. Ask your doctor for diet advice and to help you draw up an exercise plan.
Women who go through premature menopause may experience a range of emotions. Some women may feel a little surprised but, if they’ve already had children, quite happy at the prospect of a future free of tampons, cramps and periods. Other women may have feelings of inadequacy, failure, and even grief, particularly if they still want children. No matter what your reaction to your diagnosis, you need to keep the lines of communication open with your partner. Seek professional support outside your circle of family and friends if you feel overwhelmed by your feelings of sadness.
If you still want to have a baby, you should raise this issue with your GP and gynaecologist. Pregnancy via IVF using eggs from a donor may be possible. You should also investigate your options regarding adoption.