Do you want your menopause to start early or later in life? If you are finished having children, you may wish your periods would go away and welcome the early start of menopause. But research shows early menopause may be associated with more health risks than menopause that starts at an older age.
As a woman reaches the end of her childbearing years, her ovaries gradually stop functioning and the levels of reproductive hormones, including estrogen, fluctuate and gradually decrease. Menopause officially begins when a woman has not had a period for 12 consecutive months.
Many women go into menopause around the same age as their mothers, but there is no medical way to determine in advance what age a woman will be when she reaches menopause.
One exception to this occurs when menopause is triggered by medical treatments such as a hysterectomy or chemotherapy that affect estrogen production.
Most women naturally reach menopause at an average age of 51 years old. Doctors consider it normal for a woman to reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55. However, menopause can occur as early as age 30 and as late as in the 60s.
Menopause that occurs earlier than age 40 is known as early or premature menopause. Early menopause can be a side effect of another condition, such as an autoimmune disorder including diabetes or thyroid disease or a metabolic disorder.
Infections such as the mumps can also sometimes lead to early menopause. An inherited genetic condition or a genetic mutation that affects the X chromosomes can also result in premature menopause.
Lifestyle factors that can contribute to early menopause include smoking and high or low body mass index (BMI).
Health risks associated with early menopause include:
Early menopause can increase the risk of osteoporosis at a younger age than normal. Osteoporosis occurs when bone density is lost so bones become fragile or brittle and are more prone to break.
Lifestyle changes such as, getting regular exercise or spending time in the sun can help protect your bones.
- Cardiovascular disease
Early menopause can increase the risk of heart disease or stroke compared to women who reach menopause later in life.
Lifestyle changes including stopping smoking, eating a healthful diet, staying at a healthy weight, and getting regular exercise can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Mental health concerns
Early menopause can increase the risk for depression, anxiety, and moodiness.
Other concerns associated with early menopause include symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease and premature death.
Women who have early menopause may be advised to take hormone replacement therapy (HRT), at least until they reach a more normal age for menopause to help reduce the risks caused by premature menopause. Replacing estrogen in these women reduces their risk for osteoporosis by preventing bone loss and is most effective when started as soon as estrogen deficiency is started. However, lower levels of ovarian hormones at an early age caused by early menopause may help protect against estrogen and progesterone-sensitive cancers such as breast cancer. It does not increase their risk for developing breast cancer.
Menopause that starts after age 55 is considered to be late-onset menopause.
Menopause can be delayed due to a variety of health conditions including thyroid disorders and abnormally high estrogen levels earlier in life. Being obese can also result in late menopause because fat can produce estrogen, supplementing the amount of hormone normally produced by the ovaries.
The primary health concern associated with late menopause is increased risk of breast cancer. Research also suggests women who go into menopause late may have increased risk for changes in cells in the cervix which may result in cervical cancer.
Health benefits from late menopause include reduced risk of osteoporosis and heart disease. Women who enter menopause at a later age have higher levels of estrogen for more years, which can help delay the onset of these conditions.
In general, women who go into menopause late tend to live longer.
No matter when menopause begins, you may experience common side effects from lower hormone levels including hot flashes, night sweats, memory problems, and weight gain.
If you have questions about menopause or whether hormone replacement therapy might be right for you, talk to your health care provider.
Menopause Facts. MedicineNet. Retrieved January 18, 2016. http://www.medicinenet.com/menopause/article.htm
Stephanie Wattson. What Causes Early Menopause? Healthline. Retrieved January 18, 2016. http://www.healthline.com/health/menopause/causes-early#Complications2
Jean Hailes. Premature & early menopause. Retrieved January 18, 2016. https://jeanhailes.org.au/health-a-z/menopause/premature-early-menopause
Stephanie Faris. Late-Onset Menopause: What is Causing Your Delay? Healthline. Retrieved January 18, 2016. http://www.healthline.com/health/menopause/late-onset#2
Reviewed January 21, 2016
By Philip Sarrel, M.D. and Lorna Sarrel, M.S.