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A woman enters the menopause officially when she has stopped having periods, and it has been a year since her last menstruation. Normally, the menopause starts between a woman's late forties and mid fifties

What is an early menopause?

In the United States, 51 is the average age at which menopause starts. Some women enter the menopause early than that in their early forties, during their thirties, or even in their twenties. When a woman goes into the menopause before 40 years of age, it is known as premature menopause or early menopause. What causes an early menopause?

Chromosomal abnormalities often play a role in premature ovarian failure. Autoimmune disorders can be behind a premature menopause , and chemotherapy for cancer can induce an early menopause too. Women who have had surgery on their ovaries, or have been in an accident, may experience the same thing. Finally, thyroid disorders may mimic the symptoms of an early menopause, but in this case medication will solve the problem. Premature menopause is a condition that will, quite apparently, cause infertility in women who would normally be looking forward to becoming a mom for the first time. The menopause will progress gradually in young women, just as with older women. Many won't realize that they are going through the menopause because it's normally far too early for that. They will still notice a variety of symptoms, though. We'll look at those now.

What are the symptoms of early menopause?

The symptoms of the menopause aren't the same for every woman, and they may not immediately be obvious at all. If you are going through the menopause prematurely, you may notice the following menopause symptoms:

  • Irregular periods
  • Really heavy or light periods
  • Periods that are longer apart
  • Nausea
  • Weight gain
  • Hot flashes and night sweats
  • Memory loss
  • Failure to get pregnant
  • Joint, muscle and tendon pain
  • Headaches and problems with concentration
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Dry skin

That is one long list! Of course, some of these symptoms are pretty general and can point to a whole host of other problems as well. Still, these are things every woman should pay attention to. Menstrual cycle changes, in particular, should lead any woman to make an appointment with her doctor to find out what the cause is behind your altered menstruation. You can expect a blood test and a physical examination during the diagnostic process, but the test that finally diagnoses menopause is a test for FSH, follicle stimulating hormone. Medical management of the early menopause Premature menopause can be managed with hormone replacement therapy, herbal supplements, and dietary adaptations. The way in which the menopause is managed in younger women doesn't differ much from menopause management in older women. There is one difference, though when you are really "too young" to enter the menopause, you are probably going to feel really down about these unexpected changes in your body. You may even be depressed. In addition to hormone replacement therapy for those women who choose it, counseling is also recommended.

Having children after an early menopause

Not being able to get pregnant naturally is one of the biggest disappointments that going through the menopause much earlier than usual brings. Women who have experienced an early menopause often still fight to find a way to have children. IVF may be an option for you, with your own egg cells if you have any left (not often), or with the help of egg donation. Egg donation is often seen as a wonderful option for those women who would really like to go through a pregnancy. Embryo adoption, adoption and foster parenting are three other options that you may like to look into.

Some women even take fertility drugs such as Clomid in a desperate last attempt to have a baby. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to suggest that this could be effective at all. Women who had an early menopause and would love to have a baby should talk to a reproductive endocrinologist about their possibilities. Your family doctor will be able to refer you if you ask. Have you gone through an early menopause, or do you think changes you have noticed in your menstrual cycle may indicate an early menopause? Share your story if you like!

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