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Menopause comes to all women. It's a fact of life, just as menstruation is, but that doesn't mean it's easy or you have to put up with the symptoms.
Menopause is medically diagnosed when you've gone for a year without having a period; it means that your supply of egg-producing follicles has run low or ceased.
Many women suffer with menopause symptoms and for some it arrives earlier than they had thought.
The average age for menopause in the States and the UK is 51. The normal range is 41-58, but some women find themselves experiencing menopausal symptoms in their late 30s. At this age it's known as premature menopause.
The symptoms of menopause can include...
If you're experiencing the early menopause, you may think it unfair. Why has it arrived in your late thirties and not decades later like everyone else? However, early menopause happens to a surprising number of women in the UK and there may be an underlying reason.
Here are some of the conditions that increase the likelihood of early menopause…
If your mother got hers early, you may well follow suit. A family history is a good predictor of menopause.
A study in the BMJ discovered that women who had smoked for over ten years were more likely to have menopause one to two years earlier than if they had not smoked. This includes women who inhaled secondhand smoke.
This could be down to how smoke damages body cells and contributes to unhealthy body issues such as high blood pressure and the risk of cancer. If you're a regular or occasional smoker it's best to quit for good.
Autoimmune disease is when the immune system attacks the body damaging tissue, bones, organs and skin, so it's no surprise it can attack the ovaries and reproductive system.
Rheumatoid arthritis is linked to early menopause, as is scleroderma and connective tissue disease. A study of 18,000 women from Sweden showed that women with early menopause were twice as likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis.
We're layering on the studies here, but yet another study showed that women from poorer backgrounds were 80% more likely to experience early menopause. This was attributed to the connection between the immune system and stress, being overweight or diabetic, and a lack of good nutrition.
So as well as being overweight, being underweight can also equal early menopause. Very underweight women, such as those suffering from anorexia, find their periods stop altogether. This is not strictly the menopause but the body's reaction to a low body mass. However, if you're consistently under 18.5 on the BMI scale, your menopause may arrive earlier.
It's not known why but women with epilepsy may suffer from premature menopause. A study of epileptics found 14% had early menopause compared to the general 1% of the population. It may be to do with lower oestrogen levels but studies continue to confirm this is the case.
Drinking alcohol excessively can interfere with menstruation to the extent that periods stop. This is likely due to an inadequate diet and malnutrition issues. Alcoholics often lack necessary vitamins, mineral and fibre to keep the body healthy.
Heavy drinking can affect reproductive hormones. Even women who think their drinking is not excessive may find their menopause arrives earlier. A study by the Harvard Medical school found early menopause occurred in social drinkers consuming three drinks a day.
Chemo is invasive and can damage ovarian follicles; this is known as medical menopause. 70-90% of Women over 40 undergoing chemotherapy have menopause following their treatment, and up to 40% of under 40s. Younger women may find their periods stop during treatment but may return afterwards - these younger women are still at more risk of experiencing an early menopause.
Another 'medical menopause' cause is surgery that removes the ovaries. Endometriosis, cysts and cancer are reasons some women have their ovaries removed and the menopause will begin instantly in these cases.
Surgery of the uterus that does not remove the ovaries won't cause menopause though. Ovaries are the key; if a small amount of ovary can be saved, this may be enough to prevent menopause.
It sounds like something from a superhero mutant film, however fragile X syndrome is a genetic disorder that causes learning and mental disabilities, which can lead to earlier menopause. Some women with no symptoms may carry the genes and it's thought one in 250 women carry the permutation. It raises the risk of early menopause by 20%.
Many women look for ways to delay and stops their periods, the contraceptive pill is a popular way of achieving it and there is even a period delay tablet called Norethisterone, but early menopause can indicate biological aging and chronic illnesses later down the line.
Women who have the menopause early are at a higher risk of stroke, heart disease, depression, dementia and osteoporosis according to Dr Minkin the clinical professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Yale University School of Medicine. So, brush up your lifestyle accordingly!
Some of the reasons for early menopause cannot be avoided. Genetics, surgery and a low economic status for example, but it's best to ensure you're as healthy as you can be to help prevent an early menopause.