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What is Premature Menopause?

Menopause

Menopause is simply the name given to the last menstrual period, but for most women it means much more than this.

It is the cycle in a woman's life when her ovaries stop producing eggs, when her periods begin to stop and when her hormone levels change. Menopause is something that typically happens between the ages of 47 and 53. It means hot flushes, no more periods, an end to a woman’s reproductive years - and is a natural part of her life, which for a women in her teens, 20’s, 30’s and early 40’s, should be far in the future.

Premature Menopause

Early menopause, premature menopause and/or premature ovarian failure are terms that are generally used to describe the same condition, whatever the cause.  The words are often used interchangeably, which can be confusing at first!  There is no internationally agreed wording.  A newer term for the condition is premature ovarian insufficiency, which may describe it more accurately as the ovaries may not have irreversibly 'failed' and premature ovarian failure/insufficiency has important differences from the 'normal' menopause which occurs at an average age of 51-52 in the UK.

Note: Premature menopause is generally defined as the onset of menopause before the age of 45.

Age is the key factor, as early or premature menopause is typically used to mean menopause that comes well before the average age of normal menopause -- when you're still in your teens, 20s, 30s, or early 40s. Simply put, it means that the ovaries aren't working properly. They stop producing eggs years, and in some cases even decades, before they should. This condition affects one per cent of women before the age of 40. Approximately one in every 100 women under the age of 40, one in 1,000 women under 30 and one in 10,000 under 20 experience thipremature ovarian failure. In Britain 110,000 women between the ages of 12 and 40 are affected. A spontaneous (natural) early menopause affects approximately 5% of the population before the age of 45. 

Early menopause can also be caused by removal of the ovaries or medical treatments such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy.  The exact number of women affected by all causes combined is unknown.

Menopause And Climacteric

The term menopause is often used incorrectly. As explained earlier, menopause means your last menstrual period. Climacteric more accurately describes the gradual changes and symptoms which occur as the production of hormones and ovarian function diminishes. The process whereby periods stop is a gradual one, in most cases, and is a long process of changes akin to puberty.

Premenopause

This is the stage where your periods are still regular but the first symptoms such as night sweats and mood swings may occur. However, sometimes it is used to mean the years of your life when your periods are regular and you are fertile. So make sure you know which meaning the word has in the context you are reading it or being told about it.

Perimenopause

Premature menopause is not to be confused with perimenopause. Perimenopause lasts several years on either side of your last menstrual period. Vague symptoms you may not have connected may become significant when viewed as part of perimenopause. It is during this time that you notice the most physical changes, when your periods may become irregular and hot flushes and night sweats may start. During this stage you are still fertile and may conceive although the chances of getting pregnant are often negligible. Perimenopause is the time during which your ovarian hormones start to change and your egg production is significantly reduced. One of the key indicators of this change is the rise of the Follicle Stimulating Hormone levels – see Hormones .

Postmenopause

This term describes the time from after your last menstrual period to the end of your life.