What causes early menopause?

What causes early menopause?

By Rebecca Mendoza, CNP, NCMP – Menopause Center of Minnesota Provider

Early menopause can be caused by certain medical treatments, or it can just happen on its own. Menopause occurs when your ovaries stop producing estrogen, the hormone that controls the reproductive cycle. Anything that damages your ovaries or stops estrogen can cause premature menopause. But some women unexpectedly go into menopause early, even if their ovaries are still intact.

The average age for menopause in the United States is 51, according to the National Institute on Aging. Generally, most women experience onset between the ages of 40 and 60. Early menopause usually refers to cases where onset occurs before the age of 40. There are several known causes of early menopause, although sometimes the cause remains unknown. Here are some of the reasons a woman may experience early menopause:

  • Genetics. When there’s no obvious medical reason for early menopause, the cause often lies in your genes. Researchers have determined that age at menopause onset is most likely inherited. Finding out when your mother started menopause can provide clues as to when you’ll start your own. If your mother started menopause early, then you are six times more likely than average to do the same. Yet genes tell only half the story.
  • Chromosome defects. Problems in the chromosomes can cause premature menopause. For example, women with Turner’s syndrome are born without all or part of one X chromosome. The ovaries don’t form normally, and early menopause results.
  • Autoimmune diseases. The body’s immune system, which normally fights off diseases, may mistakenly attack the ovaries and prevent them from making hormones. Thyroid disease and rheumatoid arthritis are two diseases that can cause this to happen.
  • Lifestyle Factors. Smoking can contribute to early menopause, due to its anti-estrogen effects. Several studies have indicated that long-term or regular smokers are likely to experience menopause sooner than the average age of occurrence. According to the Mayo Clinic, on average, smokers start menopause one to two years earlier than non-smoking women.
  • Weight. Body mass index (BMI) is another possible factor in early menopause. Estrogen is stored in fat tissue. Very thin women have less estrogen stores, which can be depleted sooner, experts say. Other studies have indicated that a higher BMI could cause a late onset of menopause.
  • Chemotherapy or pelvic radiation treatments for cancer. These treatments can damage the ovaries and cause your periods to stop. Effects like having trouble getting pregnant can happen right away or several months later. The chances of going into menopause depend on the type and amount of chemotherapy that was used. Also, the younger you are, the lower the chances that you will experience menopause.Surgery to remove the ovaries. Surgical removal of both ovaries causes menopause right away. Your periods will stop after this surgery, and your hormones drop quickly. You may immediately have strong menopausal symptoms, like hot flashes and diminished sexual desire.
  • Surgery to remove the uterus. If you’ve had a hysterectomy you may not enter menopause right away because your ovaries will continue to make hormones. But, because your uterus is removed, you no longer have periods and cannot get pregnant. You might have hot flashes because the surgery can sometimes affect the blood supply to the ovaries. Later on, you might have natural menopause a year or two earlier than expected.

Read more about the different causes of early menopause here. From hormone fluctuations and stress to hysterectomy, all of these causes can end up in the early onset of menopause.


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