Premature and early menopause is the subject of conversation with more awareness and understanding in and around the workplace, but how much do we really know about menopause and the effects it has on women day to day? Here we separate facts from fiction, highlight symptoms, and discuss treatments.
At some point during a woman’s life, she is highly likely to go through menopause, but only 75% of women will suffer menopausal symptoms. However, 25% of those will suffer from severe symptoms.
There is no predictability as to when a woman will enter into menopause, and although we generally see women entering menopause after the age of 45, there is a percentage of under 40’s suffering from premature and early menopause.
What is the difference between early menopause and premature menopause?
The only difference between early menopause, premature menopause, and menopause is age.
Symptoms of menopause in women under 45 are considered early menopause, while those under 40 with menopausal symptoms are deemed to have entered premature menopause.
The majority of ladies will experience symptoms after the age of 45.
What can cause premature and early menopause?
There are no wrongs or rights, no injuries or unhealthy diets to be blamed for premature and early menopause.
Two main factors are considered when discussing premature and early menopause – genetics and autoimmune conditions such as thyroiditis.
Other health conditions which may induce premature and early menopause can include –
- Turner’s syndrome – A condition where a woman is born without all or part of one X chromosome.
- Autoimmune thyroid disease – Women whose immune system starts to attack their own thyroid gland are slightly more likely to go into early menopause.
- Cancer treatments – Chemotherapy and pelvic radiation treatments can cause damage to the ovaries.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome – Also known as ME/CFS. Research has suggested a link between chronic fatigue syndrome and premature and early menopause.
- Surgery to remove the uterus and ovaries – also known as a total hysterectomy. This will cause your periods to stop and will bring on symptoms of menopause. However, if you just have the uterus removed, your ovaries may still produce hormones and you will enter menopause naturally at a later date.
- Smoking – Yes, as with all things unhealthy, smoking has been linked to ill health and early menopause.
Common symptoms of premature menopause, early menopause, and menopause.
Subtle changes are usually the first time you may consider menopause. Hair thinning, changes in your skin, and within the pattern of your periods may happen over a long time. Eventually, your periods will slow and come to a stop. After 12 months of no periods, you are considered to have reached menopause.
Noticeable symptoms also include –
- Changes in mood, including feeling more anxious or irritable
- Difficulty sleeping which may also include night sweats
- Hot flushes (known as night sweats if experienced during the night)
- Memory loss or brain fog
- Reduced sex drive and pain/discomfort during sex – Normally due to vaginal dryness
- An increase in UTIs such as cystitis
- Increase in headaches and migraines
- Overall loss of confidence
Myths about menopause
There are many myths surrounding the topic of menopause and unfortunately, it has frequently been ‘taboo’ to talk about in the past. Luckily this is slowly changing and people are feeling empowered to discuss this important topic.
Here are some myth-busting facts to help you get your head around menopause.
Menopause is the same for every woman – Wrong. While some women go through menopause seamlessly, others may get every symptom under the sun. And to add, you may have the same symptoms as the next woman, but the severity level may differ. Every experience is different, and women should feel at ease talking about their personal journey.
Menopause is for old ladies – Wrong. As we have already discussed, women of all ages can go through menopause. Those who do experience it at the average age of 45-55 are now considered young! In addition, many women going through this phase of life find new energy and confidence.
HRT is bad for you – Wrong. As with any drug, there are risks and benefits. For example, many women get huge relief from their menopausal symptoms and taking combined HRT immediately after menopause for up to 10 years can reduce the risk of heart disease. On the other hand, it can increase the risk of developing some cancers and blood clots. So, we need to weigh these risks and benefits and make decisions based on the individual and what is important to them.
You cannot get pregnant once you start going through menopause – Wrong. You may have more difficulty getting pregnant once you start experiencing symptoms of menopause; however, it is still possible. If you do not want to get pregnant, continue to practice safe sex!
You have to suffer in silence – Wrong, whether it’s friends, work colleagues, family, or your doctor. Help is on hand. Open talks are happening about issues women face inside and outside the workplace. The fight to protect women under the Equality Act 2010 is being pushed for; meanwhile, organisations are writing their own policies to ensure the comfort and protection of female workers who may be experiencing symptoms of menopause.
Does menopause last forever?
Menopause comes in three stages.
Perimenopause means “around menopause” and is the start of the changes; when period patterns change, you may notice changes in your hair and skin, and you may even experience hot flashes or mood swings.
Menopause is the signalling of the end of your female reproduction. This would be diagnosed by a doctor 12 months after your last period/bleed.
Postmenopause is genuinely considered once another 12 months have passed after diagnosis. So in effect, two years of no periods or bleeds. This phase lasts the rest of your life; however, symptoms may not. In general, symptoms calm, and your body’s coping mechanism has kicked in, meaning you are far better at dealing with issues such as hot flushes.
We have talked to a handful of women and asked them what they consider “taboo”. Here are the top answers!
Vaginal dryness can cause irritation, pain, and burning. It can even put us off sex! But there are solutions available; get to the pharmacy and purchase some vaginal lubricant; you can even order it online. Vaginal hormone creams are also available from your doctor. Your partner likely already knows changes are happening, so don’t leave them in the dark. Open up and have that conversation.
Zero sex drive
Yes, menopause can affect your sex drive, however, there are things that can help with this symptom, so please don’t be shy to discuss it with your doctor. It is also important to remember to talk to your partner and go easy on yourself.
It’s okay to say you’re feeling angry or down, even depressed. Menopause can affect your mental health so it’s important to open up, especially to your doctor, who might be able to help you centre yourself again with a bit of medical help.
How to diagnose menopause
Tests are not always used to diagnose menopause. If you are aged 45 or over and your periods have stopped for 12 months or more (and you are not using hormonal contraception) then it is normally assumed that you are in menopause. However, if there is any doubt or you would like confirmation of this, then we can test your levels of a hormone called FSH. Raised levels will confirm menopause. This is a blood test. We can also test other hormone levels to guide any treatment if necessary.
We offer a range of different treatments tailored to suit you, including –
- Hormone therapy (HRT) – can help to relieve all symptoms of menopause. There are many forms of HRT including creams, gels, patches, and tablets. Coils and other contraceptives that you may already be using can also play a part. We can try different hormones (including oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone) in different forms and doses to suit you until you feel better
- Antidepressants – to help with low mood and feelings of anxiety
- Vaginal oestrogen creams – these help to relieve vaginal dryness
- Clonidine – this can help to reduce hot flushes
Advice about lifestyle and diet to help with menopausal symptoms is also available from our experienced lifestyle medicine GPs.
Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you would like to know more about testing or any of the treatments we offer. We can provide a tailored treatment plan to suit you and review it regularly to ensure that you feel supported.
We also offer a comprehensive women’s health screen as well as:
- Contraception (oral/depo injection)
- HPV testing
- Breast checks, including mammogram referrals
- Genetic testing for breast cancer risk
- Ovarian Cancer Screening
- STI screening
- Cystitis/urinary tract infections
- Pregnancy confirmation
- Ultrasound scan referrals for pregnancy