When menopause occurs before the age of 40, it is called premature or early menopause. This may occur spontaneously when a woman’s ovaries stop functioning at an unusually early age, or it may be caused by surgery when a woman has her ovaries removed. It can also occur as a result of chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer.
Early menopause is a subject that receives little attention. Yet surprisingly, around one in a hundred women experience the symptoms of early menopause, including young women in their teenage years and early twenties.
What are the physical symptoms?
The physical symptoms are the same as for natural midlife menopause and include hot flushes, night sweats, palpitations, mood changes, loss of self esteem, depressed feelings, irritability, anxious thoughts, loss of energy, changes in urinary function, vaginal dryness and painful intercourse, as well as loss of libido and sexual function.
Following surgical menopause, symptoms may commence very quickly. Often they are intense unless treatment is initiated immediately after surgery. This is related to the abrupt changes in hormone levels and the fact that many of these women are younger and in general younger women have more severe symptoms.
How can early menopause affect a woman psychologically?
Although many women adjust well to early menopause with appropriate advice, education and support, it can also have a significant impact on a woman’s emotional health and well-being.
The issues a woman may face include:
- Grief, depressed feelings, and sadness;
- Loss of self esteem and control and a sense of helplessness;
- Concern about how her partner will see her in terms of appearance, femininity, sexuality and sensuality;
- Potential issues concerning fertility, adjustment to childlessness, reduced family size and loss of reproductive capacity; and
- Feeling old before her time and out of harmony with her own age group.
What is involved in managing early menopause?
Early menopause is a time for personal adjustment. A woman may find support among her family and friends. However, be aware that every woman’s experience of menopause is different and individual, and the symptoms noted by friends and family may differ greatly from her own experiences.
Other sources of encouragement may include support groups, doctors or a psychologist.
Making the necessary lifestyle changes to diet, boosting calcium intake and maintaining an adequate level of physical exercise is important to help prevent osteoporosis.
Therapy to counteract the loss of oestrogen and progesterone is usually given as Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), but may also include supplementary testosterone.
Professional psychological support for women who are experiencing distressing psychological symptoms can be of enormous help, as can keeping informed about early menopause and what the treatment and therapy options are. Finding a support group may also help.
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