Early menopause is another concept that may be new to you. Menopause itself is actually more of a biological mile marker than a transition; it’s generally defined as the time when it’s been a year since your last period. Perimenopause is the period of transition into menopause as your body begins to transition away from its childbearing years. But early menopause… what is that?
As you’ve probably guessed, early menopause (or premature menopause) occurs when a woman reaches menopause before the average age (51 in the U.S.). Early menopause can also be used to describe the phenomenon of women who start experiencing menopause symptoms before their peers, which can happen as early as their 20s or 30s.
Early menopause can have different causes, including illness (even common ones like mumps), environmental factors, smoking, chemotherapy, poor health, genetics and medical procedures. Most procedures that involve the removal of the ovaries will cause early menopause. These operations are usually performed to halt the spread of an abdominal cancer. Chemotherapy and pelvic radiation therapy can also cause early menopause, but the condition isn’t always permanent.
If you suspect you’re experiencing early menopause, visit your doctor. Your doctor will have a number of tests and questions to ask you, but the key test is a lab test that measures the level of FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) in your blood. FSH is the trigger that stimulates your ovaries to produce estrogen. When the ovaries aren’t producing as much estrogen, FSH levels rise in your blood.
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