So most of us think of menopause as when old women get a few hot flashes and then are relieved for life of the terrible hellish thing that are periods. It's what teens jokingly ask for when their cramps and bad and they're thinking they're never going to want to endure labour anyway. In actuality, the average age for menopause to start is 51. Menopause means the end of your fertile years because, inside your body, your ovaries are failing and ceasing to produce oestrogen. However, some women, up to 4%, undergo what is called premature menopause, which is menopause that starts before age 40.
Premature menopause may occur for a variety of reasons. Of course, with anything medical, we could say oh, that's just genetics, and we wouldn't necessarily be wrong. Genetics play a big role and if you're wondering when the period fairy is going to stop coming after you, you could ask your mom when she hit menopause because that is a good indicator. However, certain surgeries and chemotherapy may also induce early menopause, as may smoking.
While being relieved of your period is an obvious blessing, ceasing to produce oestrogen is not all good. Oestrogen prevents your bones from thinning, it increases the good cholesterol in your body, and it decreases the bad kind of cholesterol in your body. Therefore, not having oestrogen puts you at a higher risk for osteoporosis and for heart disease, and it's more impactful if your bones start thinning at a younger age (in premature menopause) than if they start thinning when you're older. The mood swings and increase anxiety and irritability that comes with menopause also puts a woman at a higher risk for depression.
You'll know your starting menopause if your periods start getting a little wonky. They may come irregularly - too often, or not often enough - and they may be unusually light, unusually heavy, unusually crampy, etc. It's not a bad idea to keep a brief period log so that you notice when they start to get irregular. You'll also know you've reached menopause when you experience the dreaded hot flashes, mood swings, vaginal dryness, decreased libido, and increasing PMS. (All fun). If you're premature for menopause, you may want to verify with a doctor that nothing is wrong.
But the reason I think we need to talk about premature menopause is because women who undergo menopause prematurely have a rougher time of it than those whose bodies wait until they're 50. Then the woman feels that something is wrong with her, that her body is doing something it shouldn't be. This isn't helped by the fact that she's at a higher risk for depression. Then, she has to cope with that fact that the side effects of vaginal dryness and decreased libido cause sex to be at best unenjoyable and at worst downright painful. And finally, for many women, it is a nightmare to realize you haven't yet had the children you want to have and you now find yourself helplessly infertile.
For women who will never experience premature menopause, I think it's time we become sympathetic to those who do, and recognize that, though your body brings a monthly bloody waterfall, some bodies may be dried up and experiencing hot flashes, and we shouldn't think that's weird or something only old bodies do. And for women who do experience this, there is help. Talk to your doctor about exercise and possible supplements to ward off osteoporosis and heart disease. And therapy may be helpful if you're struggling with grasping infertility, a negative view of your body, being alone in your peer group, or any other symptoms of premature menopause.
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