What is Early Menopause?

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Question: What is Early Menopause?

At what age are menopause symptoms considered "early menopause?" What's the difference between early menopause and premature ovarian failure (POF)? When menopause symptoms begin early, it can be upsetting or even scary. Understanding the reasons for early menopause can help you protect yourself against the health risks that come along with the hot flashes.


When women in their late thirties or early forties begin to have symptoms of perimenopause such as hot flashes or vaginal dryness, they often wonder whether this is an early menopause.

While the average age of menopause in the United States is 51, the usual range is from 45 to 55. If you completely stop having periods before the age of 45, it is called an early menopause. If you stop menstruating even earlier -- before the age of 40 -- it is called premature menopause.

What Causes Early Menopause?

There are several reasons you might experience early menopause, including:

  • Surgery to remove your ovaries
  • Chemotherapy treatment for cancer
  • Radiation cancer treatments
  • Inherited factors such as a tendency to go through menopause young, or a syndrome that causes ovaries to stop working before the age of forty
  • Lifestyle habits that interfere with ovarian function . For example, women who smoke may go through menopause up to two years earlier than other women.
  • Other factors. Although a direct correlation has not been shown, there is some association with early menopause in women who have a history of: heart disease, pelvic surgery, exposure to toxic chemicals, depression treatment, epilepsy treatment or not giving birth.

Sometimes what seems like an early menopause is actually a temporary menopause where menses stops due to medical treatments or a medical condition.

Temporary menopause can be caused by cancer treatments, very low body weight, intensive exercise, stress, or as a side effect of medication. Once the underlying cause of the temporary menopause is eliminated, the ovaries may return to normal function.

What is the Difference between Early and Premature menopause?

The difference between these terms is age. Premature menopause is when your periods stop -- for any reason before the age of 40. Early menopause refers to menopause that occurs before the age of 45.

What is Premature Ovarian Failure?

Premature ovarian failure (POF), also called ovarian insufficiency or ovarian hypofunction, is when a woman's ovaries diminish in function before the age of 40. While premature menopause means that periods have stopped completely, in POF periods may continue irregularly for months or years. POF may be an inherited condition, or the ovaries may fail for no apparent reason. Premature ovarian failure almost always results in infertility.

What are the Symptoms of Early Menopause?

The symptoms of early menopause are essentially the same as those of menopause at a later age.

But since the symptoms may or may not be due to menopause, and because women don't always realize that these symptoms mean they are losing ovarian function, it's a good idea to have your medical provider evaluate you if you are under 40 and experience any of the following:

  • Irregular periods
  • Hot flashes or night sweats
  • Unusual changes in mood
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Trouble sleeping

Any of these symptoms could signal that your ovaries are beginning to produce lower amounts of hormones. But these symptoms are not always due to menopause, so sorting out the causes is an important step in staying healthy.

Does Early Menopause Put Me At Risk For Any Health Issues?

Some health risks come along with early menopause. Because the estrogen you produce helps protect you against certain conditions, going through menopause early may increase your risk for heart disease, osteoporosis, thyroid disease and glaucoma.

Should I Get Treatment if I Have an Early Menopause?

The answer to this question, like so many questions about menopause, is "It depends." Many women decide to use hormone therapy when their menopause is very early, especially if it happens in their twenties or thirties. In addition to treating the symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness, hormone therapy can help prevent or delay some other health risks like osteoporosis. This is an important decision and should be discussed with a doctor or medical provider who can help you weigh these factors:

  • How serious or disruptive your symptoms are
  • What risks you might have based on your family or personal medical history
  • What risks you might have related to estrogen and other hormones
  • What non-hormonal treatments are available for conditions you are at risk for
  • Your personal wishes and beliefs about various menopause treatments

Early menopause can be physically and emotionally distressing. If you suspect you may be going through menopause too soon, talk to your doctor or medical provider about what may be causing your symptoms and whether you should be treated.


North American Menopause Society (NAMS), Early Menopause Guidebook: Helping Women Make Informed Decisions, Menopause Practice: A clinician's Guide, 3rd Edition, 2007, retrieved 13 Mar, 2008.

Mikkelsen, TF, Graff-Iversen, S, Sundby, J, and Bjertness, E, Early menopause, association with tobacco smoking, coffee consumption and other lifestyle factors: a cross-sectional study, BMC Public Health, Vol. 7, p.149, 2007. Retrieved 13 Mar, 2008.

National Institutes of Health (NIH), State-of-the-Science Conference Statement on Management of Menopause-Related Symptoms, State-of -the-Science Conference Statement 21-23 Mar, 2005. Retrieved 13 Mar, 2008.

Hulsman, CA, et al, Is Open-Angle Glaucoma Associated with Early Menopause? The Rotterdam Study American Journal of Epidemiology Vol. 154, No. 2 : 138-144, 2001. Retrieved 13 Mar, 2008.

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