In order to be able to understand what premature menopause is, we must first be able to know what menopause is. It is the time in a woman’s life when periods stop permanently, alongside with the ability to have children. Premature means that it will happen before the time it is supposed to. So premature menopause can be defined as the permanent absence of menstrual cycles before the age of 51 which is when periods are supposed to stop entirely (although the range goes from 40 to 60).
Now, knowing this is not normal, it’s only ok to ask why. What causes it? The possible causes a cover a very wide spectrum, and they can be classified as either natural or medical causes of an early menopause onset.
The natural cause is most times Premature Ovarian Failure, this condition can be diagnosed when egg production comes to a full stop or hormone levels are below their normal range. Hormones are substances that regulate the functions of our body, including menstruation. The base of Premature Ovarian Failure is uncertain and can vary from one person to another; genetic predisposition and autoimmune disorder have been studied as possible causes of this circumstance.
Studies has shown that even stressful situations for a long time can lead to temporary menopause but as soon as those situations are over, normal menstrual cycle kicks back.
On the other hand, medical causes are a lot more variable:
- Infection: When the agent causing infection has the ovaries as one of its target organs, it can have serious consequences for their functioning, leading to menopause.
- Hysterectomy: This is a surgical procedure that has the goal of removing the uterus, fallopian tubes, and in some cases, even the ovaries, this means eggs and hormones drastically stop producing, concluding in menopause.
- Tubal ligation: This is another surgical procedure that’s slightly different, it only affects the fallopian tubes, but it has menopause as one of its outcomes.
- Genetics: Genes are the most important part of our confection as human beings, including the development of our internal organs such as the ovaries. While there’s no clear specific reason for early menopause, the cause can often be in the genes. Studies have shown that early menopause can be inherited. So, knowing when your closest relatives started menopause can guide you towards what to expect. If your mother had early menopause, there are six times more chances that you will too. Although genes go along with lifestyle.
- Lifestyle: Smoking has anti-estrogen effects, leading to early menopause. Some studies have shown that long term smokers often experience menopause sooner that the general population. Smokers start menopause on average two years earlier than non smokers, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Low body weight: Body mass index is determinant in some cases of early menopause, since estrogen is stored in fat tissue. Low body mass index women have less estrogen stored and it can be used sooner. Although, overweight can alter hormones in such dramatic ways that even a late menopause onset can appear.
- Chromosome defects: Some chromosomal defects can have the outcome of premature menopause. Including affections like Turner Syndrome, for example, this is when a girl is born with an incomplete chromosome. Women with this syndrome have function problems in their ovaries, leading to premature menopause.
- Autoimmune diseases: A part of autoimmune diseases symptoms may include premature menopause. The immune system can attack organs such as the thyroid or the joints causing thyroid disease and rheumatoid arthritis generating inflammatory processes that can have consequences for the ovaries.
- Epilepsy: Seizures are the most common symptom of epilepsy, which affects the brain. Studies have shown that epileptic women have a bigger tendency of premature ovarian failure, leading to menopause. One study even showed that in a group of women with epilepsy, 14% had premature menopause; in contrast with 1% in women without this condition.
Early menopause can also be defined as that occurring before the age of 40, and for scientists some causes are still unknown. But studies have shown that other different causes of early menopause include high levels of stress on a daily basis. Even though on its own, stress cannot generate early menopause, it can influence greatly on the severity and frequency of the signs and symptoms.
In conclusion, since menopause is when the ovaries do not produce ovum anymore, then any situation that may damage your ovaries can be the cause of premature menopause. In other cases, premature menopause can happen and the ovaries are perfectly intact.
But if your periods stop without a reasonable cause such as pregnancy, the most important thing is to consult with your physician as soon as possible.